Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War dead hon­ored at historic Bos­ton site


BOS­TON — The Bri­tish are com­ing again — this time in friend­ship.

A me­mo­rial hon­or­ing fallen sol­diers from the U.S. and Bri­tain is be­ing ded­i­cated this month, and the venue couldn’t be more ironic: Bos­ton’s historic Old North Church, where the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion pit­ting re­bel­lious colonists against English troops ba­si­cally be­gan.

“It’s the one place in Bos­ton where you wouldn’t ex­pect this to hap­pen,” said Si­mon Boyd, a Bri­tish-born real es­tate ex­ec­u­tive and Royal Air Force vet­eran lead­ing the ini­tia­tive.

On April 18, 1775, two lanterns were dis­played from the steeple of the church — a pre­ar­ranged sig­nal from Paul Re­vere that the Bri­tish were head­ing to Lex­ing­ton and Con­cord by sea across the Charles River rather than by land. That event, im­mor­tal­ized in Henry Wadsworth Longfel­low’s epic poem, “Paul Re­vere’s Ride,” ig­nited the war of in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain.

But Old North Church, Bos­ton’s old­est sur­viv­ing house of wor­ship and the city’s most-vis­ited his­tor­i­cal site, since has be­come a sym­bol of An­glo-Amer­i­can af­fec­tion.

Every year on the Sun­day clos­est to Nov. 11 — the date World War I ended in 1918 — the church built in 1723 has held a spe­cial re­mem­brance ser­vice for Bri­tons liv­ing in or near Bos­ton, com­plete with bag­pipes and pop­pies. This year’s commemoration will fall pre­cisely on the 100th an­niver­sary of the bloody Great War’s end.

Since 2005, Old North Church also has hosted a touch­ing tribute to Amer­i­can troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the court­yard of the church, jin­gling like wind chimes, hang nearly 7,000 blank mil­i­tary dog tags — one set of tags for every U.S. life lost.

The new me­mo­rial, a bronze wreath, will honor Bri­tish and other Com­mon­wealth forces who per­ished along­side U.S. forces in both cam­paigns. And a bronze plaque will ex­plain the mean­ing of the dog tags to the hun­dreds of thou­sands of vis­i­tors who pause to pay ho­mage each year while walk­ing Bos­ton’s Free­dom Trail — a 2.5-mile (4-kilo­me­ter) route that takes vis­i­tors past the church, Re­vere’s house and other historic land­marks.

“We once were en­e­mies, but we’ve long since got­ten over that,” said the Rev. Stephen Ayres, vicar of Old North Church. “We’re now a go-to church for the Bri­tish com­mu­nity in Bos­ton. That’s part of the im­prob­a­bil­ity and won­der of Old North.”

Bruce Brooks­bank, the Iraq-Afghanistan me­mo­rial’s vol­un­teer care­taker, re­mem­bers how sol­diers in the 1960s and ‘70s were dis­re­spected when they re­turned home from Viet­nam.

“This is my own lit­tle chance to make amends,” he said. Fit­tingly, two top sol­diers from both coun­tries will join forces on Nov. 17 to un­veil the wreath and plaque, both paid for by The Sol­diers Fund, a Bos­ton-based non­profit that sup­ports U.S. and Bri­tish sol­diers, vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies.

Re­tired Gen. Martin Dempsey, a for­mer chair­man of the joint chiefs of staff un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama who now over­sees USA Bas­ket­ball, and re­tired Gen. Sir Mike Jack­son, who held the high­est post in the Bri­tish Army from 2003-2006 and now is pres­i­dent of Bri­tain’s Army Benev­o­lent Fund, will pre­side over the un­veil­ing. Both will speak at a Sol­diers Fund din­ner in Bos­ton that evening.

There’s an­other tie that binds, said Boyd, who chairs the board of the Sol­diers Fund: In 1917, Mas­sachusetts sent one of the largest U.S. reg­i­ments to fight in WWI, naively dubbed “the war to end all wars.”

“We’re com­mem­o­rat­ing Bri­tish and Amer­i­can lives lost, at a church where Paul Re­vere said with his lanterns that the Bri­tish were com­ing,” he said. “It’s re­ally all kind of come full cir­cle.”

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