The Importance of Continuing Our Remembrance Traditions.
Ninety-nine years may have passed but the importance of Armistice Day continues to be passed on to the younger generations, and rightly so. My three year-old son came home from Pre-School on Wednesday and told us they had “made poppies for the people who had died with the guns”. The following day, he told us that the poppies “were for the people who died in the wars.” Some might argue that three-year-olds are too young to be taught this, but why shouldn’t they be?
A few days ago, Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian, saying that “This weekend’s memorial to “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” has become a synthetic festival whose time has passed. We really ought to get over it. Next year we should draw down the curtain and have a Forgetting Day, a Move On Day, a Fresh Start Day.”
In 2015, an Associate Editor of the Guardian newspaper called for poppy wearing and remembrance services to be phased out. In his Opinion column, Martin Kettle used the Battle of Agincourt as his reference point, suggesting that the passage of time since the event was too great ‘to be a source of pride or emotion’. He then went on “If we are capable of thinking about Agincourt without wrapping ourselves in the flag, why not other later conflicts too?’
I find these ideas shocking. As we commemorate ninety-nine years since the guns fell silent to mark the end of the First World War, it is surely right to continue to pay our respects in the acts of remembrance we see each year. After all, the human cost of the Great War - said to be the War to end all wars – eclipsed any conflict that had come before. It is also important to consider our own family links to World War 1, which for some may only be two or three generations down the line. The ties being so close, stories have been passed down and shared amongst family members along with photos and documents relating to the relatives we remember on this important day. The access we have to records with the Internet making it even easier for us to make the connection, means we can gain a greater understanding and connection to our ancestors who served in the conflict.
In his article Martin Kettle moved on to suggest the laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph and the wearing of poppies is unnecessarily oppressive, sighting TV presenters feeling obliged to wear a poppy on screen for fear of being accused of being unpatriotic. Perhaps, Mr Kettle is outdated in his own view of the traditions. These acts of remembrance go far beyond considering the fallen of WW1 and bring us right through the decades to the present. For me it is not about patriotism. That is surely a simplistic view. It is not about ‘Britishness’. In thinking this way, we ignore the individual, the person, and their families. The cost of war is handed out to the individuals asked to step onto the front lines with weapons in hand. But so high is the cost, it is shared by loved ones, friends and colleagues, and in some cases, the foe.
Modern day remembrance is about all those who have suffered the affects of loss as a result of conflict. We watch with empathy, the veterans and the people who march on their behalf to the Cenotaph each year. These are the people who have suffered the most. They have seen friends killed and wounded, seen their fellow man on both sides live out their final moments in a way they should never have to. The fallen of the First World War were the seeds in the tree of remembrance and what special seeds they were. They have enabled us to understand the true cost of war. Take for example, the mother of an Australian soldier whose son had gone missing during the Great War. She began writing to the Red Cross in 1916, hoping for news. She continued to write until 1921, years after the men had returned home. There was no grave for her to visit, just a memorial with his name carved into the stone.
Some find Remembrance traditions difficult given Britain’s particular involvement in wars throughout history. In 2014, David Aldridge, a philosopher working in the School of Education at Oxford Brookes University, wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘How ought war to be remembered in schools?’ In it he questioned the involvement of the fundraising charities in schools, with a particular focus on their slogans, the images they use and the message they try to put across. It is true that people may not agree that we should wear a poppy with pride as they may not agree with a political decision that lead us into war. They may not see our armed forces as ‘heroes’ if they are fighting a war they see as unjust. However, we are not wearing our poppies to glorify a war. When we pin a poppy on, lay a wreath, observe a silence, we are not glorifying a decision to go to war for political gain, nor are we celebrating our countries might in the world. We are remembering the individuals who lost their lives as a result of those decisions and actions. Are we not punishing those who have and those who are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice by not giving up two minutes of our time, or laying a wreath or displaying a poppy once a year in an act of remembrance?
Education around remembrance needs to change with the modern world and the question of remembrance, what it really means, and whether it should continue will be debated for many years to come. However, it is in today’s modern world more than ever that remembrance should have its place as we continue the struggle for world peace.
I understand we live in a democracy and we have free speech and free choice – to a point. We are all entitled to our views and people have the freedom to disagree with me - another reason to be grateful to those who have helped to protect this right. I also understand that we do not necessarily have to wear a poppy to remember. But to phase out our traditions of remembrance seems completely disrespectful to the many who have and will suffer as a consequence of war.