Monday, November 13, 2006

Remembrance Sunday

Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday. In the UK, this equivalent of Veteran's Day (though focused almost exclusively on the war dead) is a big deal. A really big deal.

It started as a memorial to the Britain's many, many sons sent to slaughter in World War I. That was a really big deal, too. On the worst day of fighting at the Somme 60,000 British men and boys perished - many of their remains were never identified and they lay nameless in a corner of a foreign field that is forever England.

Commemoration of Remembrance Sunday (the Sunday closest to Remembrance Day 11 November) begins with the wearing of the poppy. Just about everyone wears them. It's just a simple paper poppy on a plastic stem to be pinned to your lapel. The poppies are available for a small donation and the money from the poppy appeal is used to support veterans in need.

The Remembrance Sunday ceremony is broadcast on radio and television. The Queen solemnly lays a wreath of poppies at the base of the Cenotaph for those who gave all. As does her husband, representatives of Commonwealth nations, Heads of the Services, chief clergy, and dignataries of all sorts. Veterans groups and the association of War Widows march past, leaving their memorials as they pass.

I have never gone to see the Remembrance service. To get a spot where you might be able to see anything, you'd have to arrive very early. It's very crowded and usually very cold and you have to stand very still for a very long time. But I do usually try to make a visit to the Field of Remembrance, on the lawn of Westminster Abbey - and I did so yesterday.

The Field of Remembrance is actually a fundraising exercise too. The field is divided into plots dedicated to different regiments, different campaigns or different countries. Crosses are available for a small donation. Far away organisations send in money and labels for their crosses. If you're in the area, you can go down to Westminster Abbey, buy a cross, write your memorial on it and hammer it in to the damp soil with a rubber mallet available to borrow.


There's a section for the American fallen, too.


The wreath is for the fallen soldiers of the state of Arkansas. A man who was a boy during WWII and was treated well by some Razor Back boys brings a wreath for them every year. I met him one time as he brought the wreath and he asked me to lay it for him.

The plaque from the US Department of Defense, which must have been engraved fairly recently, is already sadly out of date. This morning UK dead are 125 and US dead are 2,848.


Mostly people wear red poppies. There has been a movement to support wearing a white poppy for peace since 1933. This year a religious think-tank said that wearing the white poppy was more Christian, since the red poppy implied that redemption could be found through blood shed.

Yes, there's always a danger that pomp and circumstance can lead to glorification rather than reflection. But anyone who's watched an old veteran battle his own arthritic knees and bend to the ground to hammer in a cross for a fallen colleague, blink back tears and then struggle wearily to his feet will not have seen redemption through bloodshed in that act.

No comments: