Today is Remembrance Sunday.
When I was very small, my sister was in the Brownies, and we would go to watch her in the Remembrance Day parade. When I joined Brownies and was finally able to join in with the parade, I was really excited to be a part of it. I remember putting on a jumper under my Brownie uniform, polishing my shoes and making sure my yellow crossover tie was ironed to within an inch of its life, my trefoil badge polished and centred (this was the 1980s, before the trendy new uniforms). I remember doing the parade in the freezing cold, and all of us piling into the church which was also freezing cold. I remember sitting on freezing pews, listening to a church service and singing hymns. I remember the two minutes’ silence, and wondering what I was being silent for.
I don’t think I understood Remembrance Day until I was a lot older; it was just a parade, a church service, and standing about in the freezing cold. It was trying to stay silent for two minutes, in case you got told off by Brown Owl.
S is only 2; there is little chance of her understanding Remembrance Day, or why people wear poppies in November. Still, this morning, we went to the market square to watch the parade. She stood by the side of the road as the band passed, and clapped the veterans and serving soldiers as they passed. I always get emotional on Remembrance Day, as I remember people who should be standing watching the parade, or taking part in it – instead of being remembered.
I explained to S that we were watching lots of brave soldiers, and that we should clap – and she did a fine job of clapping and pointing out their very shiny shoes.
The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London has come under some criticism; it’s been called a trite representation of what was a disgustingly bloody affair, accused of mawkish sentimentality. People who have gone to see the poppies have criticised the festival atmosphere of people excited to see the poppies, apparently losing the meaning somewhere among the crowds. People have questioned why the installation should only represent British deaths, and not the global toll. To me though, it’s a good thing.
There are 888,246 poppies in the installation, or there will be by 11am on Tuesday. Each one represents someone who died in the First World War. There are no veterans left from that war now; Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, both well known, died in 2009 and Claude Choules in 2011 The last veteran, Florence Green died in 2012. There is nobody left to tell the story; I feel very strongly that we have to tell it for them, lest we forget.
Remembrance Day is very important to me. I took S to see the parade; the last two years we have stayed for the service, because she was tiny and it coincided with nap time. This year though, she is a toddler; toddlers and silence do not go hand in hand, and so I didn’t take her to the service. To me that two minutes should be complete silence, not parents hissing at children to shuttup when they don’t know why everyone’s being quiet.
As S gets older, I feel part of my responsibility as a parent is to explain to her what the parade is, and why we attend; why we observe two minutes’ silence, and why we shouldn’t forget.