“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them”.
As a child, I seldom had much time for the annual acts of remembrance on the 11th November. It was all pretty far off from where I sat in a high school hall, trying to keep my mind from wandering during the minute’s silence.
It wasn’t that I thought we were doing anything bad, per se. I just didn’t really see all that much point. It didn’t really touch me on a personal level; most kids think on a subconscious level that they are immortal, and my family hadn’t lost anyone in the War. At least, not anyone I knew about. World War Two, of course, was “the War”, still, and it was far enough back that it happened before my grandparents married.
We had lists of names up in our high school hall of the boys who had been students that had gone on to serve and give their lives in the two great wars. Once or twice I think they might have even read them out, but they weren’t anyone I knew anything about. For all the connection it all made with me, they could have picked a random page of the phone book. I didn’t get it.
Oh, if pushed I’d probably have admitted that it was a good thing to honour the sacrifices of those who’d given their all in defence of our nation and way of life, but I didn’t have any real concept of what it meant to be a soldier or sailor at war, with the very real possibility of losing one’s life.
Both of my grandfathers were in the Royal Navy in World War Two, and one of my grandmothers was a Wren (Women’s Royal Navy, for the less well-informed). But they were still alive and intact, and none of them talked about their wartime service very much at all. Ever.
It’s only now, years later, that Grandad has actually had his campaign medals mounted so they can be worn, and begun to record some of the stories so they won’t be forgotten.
I don’t think if I’d been brought up in America I’d have been allowed to not really get the idea of remembrance like I did, but America is better at public displays of pride in and affection for its military than Britain is in a lot of ways. Back at Memorial Day I posted about some of the differences between a British Remembrance Day and an American Memorial Day, and I don’t want to rehash that ground now.
All I want to say is that I get it now, and I’m glad we did it, even if I didn’t think all that much of it at the time.
We remember those who made the final sacrifice because they aren’t here with us and their posterity was cut off. We remember them not as a list of strange and funny names, but as the living, breathing human beings they once were. People like us, with families and schools and friends.
We remember their courage in stepping up to serve their country as an example for us, so that should the situation require it of us, we know in whose tradition we stand.
We remember their sacrifice, because by doing so we count the real cost of war, paid in blood as its only currency, because in war people do die, and yet there are some things that are worth fighting for anyway.