We will remember them
On november 11, thousands of services will take place around Britain, beside simple village memorials as well as the Cenotaph, to honour the Fallen and in hope that such sacrifice will never be seen again. The 100th anniversary of the Armistice, which ended hostilities in the First World War, will have a special resonance, but the centenary has also raised questions about the continuance of these rites.
They began as a response to the carnage of the First World War in the—sadly—vain hope that Europe would not have to suffer such devastation again. That generation is long gone and one might have thought that public appetite for Remembrance would have waned, but it hasn’t been the case.
Although attendance may have fallen off in the hippy-minded, flower-strewn 1970s, when memories of even the Second World War were fading and Britain was entering an EU in which the old foe of Germany was a prominent member, the decline has recently been reversed.
An obvious reason is that conflict hasn’t stopped. Despite our diminished role on the world stage and cuts to the Armed Forces, Britain has been in a state of almost constant foreign engagement since the Falklands War. Mercifully, the numbers involved have been much lower, but the roll call on some war memorials has been reopened and we have become much more aware of the psychological legacy.
There’s a guilty sense that the true cost of war has not been equally shared; most people are completely unaffected by the missions fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, which had little direct impact on those unconnected to servicemen and women. However, there may also be a danger that Remembrance becomes infected with nostalgia: a kind of Downton Abbey in khaki.
This is a British susceptibility: we’re apt to see romance in the past, however bitter the circumstances. For some, there will be a temptation to indulge this attitude after Brexit. Once more, Britain will stand alone —for better or worse.
Instead of looking back to a dubious golden age, let’s hope this year’s Remembrance inspires a different sentiment: remembering not only war, but the peace that followed it. It may have been an imperfect peace— the fault of politicians—but many private individuals sought to heal the traumas suffered by all those who were affected.
Among them were the sisters Eglantyne Jebb and Dorothy Buxton, who founded Save the Children in 1919. They wanted to help the starving children, the accidental victims of war. Unfortunately, the charity’s work is far from over. In future, it would be appropriate to make such bodies a focus of Remembrance as well.
This year, let’s remember not only war, but the peace that followed it