One hundred and two years ago this week, the guns on the Western Front fell silent. There were joyous feelings among the troops who survived and sadness when they remembered those who did not make it. In the case of one Scots Battalion, the sadness was due to there being no whisky to be had in the entire battalion. There was also a feeling of “Now what?” A reason for being had vanished. There could be no return to the old normality. No longer was there a reason to be in the trenches, or even the army anymore. Many soldiers quite simply had no idea what to do.
Roll on to the year 2020. Armistice Day this year is not the day for parades, mass concentrations of people at War Memorials, the great and the good trying to impress us mere mortals as to how great and good they are. The old normality has gone. Many people quite simply have no idea what to do.
In reality, it is very refreshing. We are not intimidated or regarded as unpatriotic if we do not attend the commemorations. Few will assault us with ludicrous explanations of where the poppy leaf should be. If you do not know where the leaf goes, look at a photograph of a real poppy. Yes, that’s right it goes there.
We now can freely commemorate how or indeed if we choose to.
Here in the Folkestone and Hythe region, we have a wealth of little known and or rarely visited war graves, or graves associated with wars. The children who died in the Folkestone air raid. One can not recall ever seeing a poppy on the grave of Walter Moss, buried in Cheriton. Soldiers who fought in long almost forgotten wars in places such as Waziristan, or more recently in Malaya. One such soldier is commemorated on the Wall in Shorncliffe Military Cemetery. The Black soldiers buried in Shorncliffe Military Cemetery and in Folkestone Old Cemetery. The Chinese, South Africans.Those who died during events such as the Berlin Airlift, one of whom is commemorated in the Cemetery at Hawkinge. There are numerous memorials rarely visited in the churches in our area. One in St Johns commemorates the “Old Contemptables” placed there after the local branch of the Association disbanded.
It’s a chance to place a poppy down at the harbour, or along the Lower Sandgate Road to honour the Canadians who marched along that road to the ships. A chance to place a poppy at the cairn on the top of the Road of Remembrance for the US Army soldiers who marched down that road in the First World War. We have a chance to show our remembrance of all soldiers of whatever nationality or race who died. The Belgians, French, Germans who were buried in Shorncliffe Military Cemetery. As well as the Americans, Australians, British, and Canadians, For the first time, we can remember who we choose no matter their nationality. How we choose to in safety without being made to feel somehow disrespectful or unloyal. When we choose, no one has to be at a certain place at a certain time. If you want to remember whenever and what day you wish to do so. We can do all these things or none at all. This year we can not complain that Armistice Day has been high jacked by those people and or groups who see it as some sort of White British National Day or those who feel the need to parade in paramilitary uniforms.
It is a chance to remember those who returned, as most did. A time to remember those who gave us the National Health Service. Gave us our Welfare State.
It is the first time in generations we can just look out of our windows and be thankful because our lives even in this time of hardship are far better than those who died could ever have imagined and not made to feel unpatriotic. Just because we did not, for whatever reason feel the need to attend an official commemoration.
Wear if you wish your poppy with pride. If you do not wish to wear a poppy do so with equal pride. It is not being disrespectful to the dead. The dead no longer care. You are not dead so enjoy your life commemorate or not how you choose. It is what freedom, which we are told they died for, is all about.
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