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Remembrance Sunday - John C. Kirk

Nov. 11th, 2012

10:22 pm - Remembrance Sunday

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Today is Remembrance Sunday (and Armistice Day) so I was out in Croydon this morning for the parade. I think that all went well: it was a bit cold, but at least it didn't rain. At the end of the parade, various people came forward to lay wreaths at the memorial while the band played music. I'd normally keep quiet during that, but an elderly gentleman standing next to me struck up a conversation. It turned out that he was a veteran, and he took part in the Normandy landings in 1944; he had to drop out of the march because his legs aren't up to it anymore. Under the circumstances, I thought that it wouldn't really be appropriate to say "Hush, I can't talk to you right now, I'm busy honouring you."

He said that there aren't many of his old colleagues left, which is what I'd expect; he must be in his 80s by now. However, I hadn't realised one implication of that: some of the associations are now closing down due to lack of members. He said that he belonged to 3 organisations: the British Legion, Normandy, and the Marines. For the marines, there were 370 members in Croydon when he started, but now there are only 4 left. For Normandy, he said that they'll close down the organisation on the 70th anniversary (presumably in 2014). It's a sad thought that the survivors are the ones who've been left behind. Then again, maybe 70 years is long enough to commemorate something and it's time to move on? Either way, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to talk to him.

MPJ wrote about commemorating Remembrance Sunday when he was young, and it sounds as if this varies quite a bit from place to place. Personally, this type of ceremony is quite familiar to me, because we had a service in the school chapel each year at CH. The BBC televised this in 1988 (when I was 14), and you can view it on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6. I was in the choir (right side, alto, furthest end from the altar), and I was almost directly in line with the camera that pointed at our conductor, so I pop up in the broadcast quite a bit:

Young John

The "guest speaker" that year was Leonard Cheshire. I thought his talk was very interesting, but he went on for a lot longer than he was supposed to. (He mentioned that it was almost 70 years since WW1 ended; it's now almost 70 years since WW2 ended.) This was a live broadcast, so the camera crew were frantically waving from the far end of the chapel but they couldn't interrupt him; I'm not sure what impact this had on the rest of the day's schedule. Still, thinking about how often I missed a TV program because of extra time at Wimbledon etc. I can't say that I'm particularly concerned about that.

One minor quandary is "What do you do with your poppy at the end of the day?" I only wear mine on Remembrance Sunday, Armistice Day, and any days in between. Throwing it in the bin feels a bit disrespectful, but hanging onto it for next year feels a bit cheap. At CH, the tradition was that we'd "plant" them in the quad after the service finished, which was a nice way to solve the problem, although really I'd just delegated it to someone else (since the poppies were all gone by the following day). This year I've decided to put mine in a plant pot. That's partly because I don't need to worry about watering it (so it will probably cope better than the pot's previous occupant) and partly so that I have a spare for next year, e.g. if someone else needs it for the parade.