Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance isn't what it used to be


As we approach the centenary of the start of the First World War, our government has finally announced that some form of commemoration will take place. This is stark contrast to our former allies, and even some of our former enemies, whose plans have been in place for years.

And what form will this “commemoration” take place. Will it be like the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, when the word “Celebration” was banned, and all events had to be low key, no smiling allowed.

Sometimes I wonder how we got like this. It certainly doesn’t seem to be the wish of those involved. Read the words of a First World War solder, Charles Carrington, complaining about how remembrance for him was a joyous thing, and how he felt it had been hijacked.

The first Armistice Day had been a carnival; the second Armistice Day, after its solemn pause at the Two Minutes' Silence which King George V was believed to have initiated, was a day of festivity again. For some years I was one of a group of friends who met, every Armistice Day, at the Cafe Royal for no end of a party, until we began to find ourselves out of key with the new age.

Imperceptibly, the Feast-Day became a Fast-Day and one could hardly go brawling on the Sabbath. The do-gooders captured the Armistice, and the British Legion seemed to make its principal outing a day of mourning. To march to the Cenotaph was too much like attending one's own funeral, and I know many old soldiers who found it increasingly discomforting, year by year. We preferred our reunions in private with no pacifist propaganda.”

Strong words, but typical of the soldiers of the day. If you asked them, they would not recognise the war depicted by poets and artists, they did not see themselves as the lost generation. They were extremely proud to have served, and taken part in the greatest series of victories in the history of the British Army, which were achieved between August - November 1918.

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