Wednesday, 11 November 2009

In Memoriam: Armistice day. A sombre post.

Today, on a crisp Winter morning I attended the Armistice ceremony at Guy's Hospital Campus in London Bridge. The service was held at the Guy's Memorial Arch (pictured above). Two minutes silence was preceded by a short sermon and brief prayer, ending with the traditional refrain 'we shall not forget'. Of course we do, which makes the brief yearly effort more important. There was a reasonable attendance, although greater numbers could have made the effort. A trumpeter led us into the two minutes silence with The Last Post and over the comparative stillness, distant bells from local churches, and a strange echo from Southwark Cathedral could be heard. Apparently at one point the service was threatened by the attentions of an errant Dachsund, but fortunately the hound was restrained.

I can understand why pacifists should regard such ceremonies with suspicion but also feel that a bit more consideration of what Armistice Day is really about might lead to greater understanding. The first world war was a greedy stupid conflict but the war dead were fighting for what they percieved as their families, for friendship and a way of life. I include my own great grandfather here and can barely imagine what his loss would have meant to his children and widow in a working class Newcastle district when there was barely any official social support. You can appreciate the bravery of both voluntary and involuntary soldiers in conflicts one might consider foolish or misguided. As for the second world war, those who grow furious about the BNP, climate change and world economics forget about the world order they came very close to inheriting. As a historian by education, the past is full of 'near misses', the defeat of Hitler was one such and only deflected by the efforts of determined and resilient people all over the world.

Despite being a pacifist, against the war in Iraq and irritated by the swagger of some foolish wannabe officers I seem to run into, I felt attending the service was a privilege. Currently I know a few people in the armed forces, some who have seen active service recently and all are intelligent, sensitive individuals. I just hope that by this time next year there are not too many more names on the memorials.

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