I found this reflection from one of the few remaining WW2 veterans incredibly poignant and powerful. And it has made up my mind.
I’ve struggled my conscience regarding Remembrance for several years now. The day reminds me strongly of my grandfathers: I was taught the importance of respectful remembrance by standing alongside my Grandad at the war memorial as he remembered real people and real events which I can’t even begin to imagine. Grandad made a point of never talking about the war, he said there were some things which should not be revisited. And yet after he died we found his story painstakingly printed in a very rare example of his laborious handwriting, forever scarred by being caned for being left-handed. His purpose In writing, he stated, was that my brother and I should know the answer to ‘what did you do in the war, Grandad?’ and should be able to judge for ourselves.
I remember out of respect for my grandparents and their generation. But time passes. They’re no longer around to comment for themselves about current wars or what Remembrance Day has become. But because they taught me well, I think I can make a fairly strong guess.
I’m the first to defend the importance of commemoration, as anyone who has been unfortunate enough to test my views on Bonfire Night will know. Coming from Lewes, ‘Lest we forget’ is written in my cultural DNA. But we should commemorate or remember for a reason: to learn from the past and commit, as best we can, to not repeating its mistakes.
Our son is 6. This week, I’m sure to Michael Gove’s approval, his teacher attempted to teach them about Remembrance Sunday. She did her best to approach the subject with the reverence it deserved. The boys spent the following break times playing a new, and really rather unpleasant, ‘World War’ game based, inevitably, on their limited TV and computer based experience. Shooting each other was fun, death was a minor inconvenience, lives were expendable because there were no consequences . Are the leaders we are responsible for electing any more grown-up?
Surely true respect for those who served and died surely should mean real commitment to saying, in homage to victims and survivors of countless genocides the world over, ‘Never Again’. Sadly, I don’t see that commitment from our political leaders and would question, should I stand by a Cenotaph on Sunday morning, whether I am truly asking it of myself.
100 years is a long time. If remembering is important, maybe it’s time we found new ways to remember?