Friday, November 13, 2009

Remembrance '09

I don't think I am alone in sensing that the Remembrance day observance struck an unusually sombre note in the national consciousness this year. Perhaps the pictures on the early evening news of soldiers coffins being paraded through Wooton Basset, the dead of Helmand, has changed our views. I may be wrong - it may be simply that my oldest son is now of an age to ask serious questions about it all; or maybe it was that he was affected by attending the Black Watch memorial service in Perth last week that brought the reality closer to our home. Either way, at church on Sunday when the 2minutes silence was respected as usual - there was a poignancy in the air.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I found myself in the timber section of B&Q on the Crieff Road in Perth. The two-minutes silence was duly announced and virtually the whole shop stopped, in total silence. My Grandparents described the way that in decades past, when memories of World Wars were fresh and raw - the whole country would come to an Armistace standstill to remember the fallen; cars would pull off the road, trains would wait at stations and trading and conversation would be postponed.

During my childhood, the stalemate of the cold-war meant that our exposure to the victims of war was minimal. Today however, our more volatile world, and our governments' willingness to engage our armed forces in conflicts means that such rememberings are resuming their significance. My son, (who is 10) learnt more about the horror of war, and the seriousness of it through the tears he observed from the bereaved of the Black Watch last Friday, than he will from any history book.

As usual, at this time of year I pause to read a little from the First World War poets, whose words are so powerful, moving, alarming, and as deceptively simple as they are disturbing. Of them all, I find Seigfreid Sasoon's words consistently engaging and thought-provoking. This is his poem 'Survivors' which describes the shell-shocked, injured and bewildered patients of Craiglockart military hospital where Sasoon was incarcerated.

No doubt they'll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they're 'longing to go out again,' -
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They'll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,-
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they'll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter'd all their pride...
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

Craiglockhart. October, 1917.

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