Armistice Day is known as Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom and is a very special day for most members of the military community both serving and once served.
There are probably few that have not lost a comrade in conflict, whether in one of the two World wars or a more recent conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Britain’s more ‘private’ battle in The Falklands.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow”
This can make commemoration services particularly poignant for the military and their families. Some of the hymns sung can be inspiring, but the minute’s silence and ‘last post’ are more likely to bring a lump to my throat.
Serving soldiers must attend; in most cases it is compulsory. However anybody that resents ‘bulling’ up their best boots, and wearing dress uniform for a couple of hours is in the wrong job!
The newly recruited are unlikely to have lost comrades on the field of battle, and are probably yet to foster the loyalty, and comradeship of brothers in arms. These are experiences they are yet to comprehend, but few are discharged unscathed and unchanged.
There is nothing that can prepare for the loss of a comrade, or loved one especially when taken from us in a violent manner. Days of commemoration set aside to honour and remember them can help but they are also days of pride. It is also about honouring those still serving, defending our countries almost always on distant shores.
Commemorating those that have fallen defending their country however is universal. It is not merely the British that hold services, they are held throughout the World. It is not only the military community that lost people close to them, but of course also family and friends.
Services are traditionally held in November on the Sunday closest to the 11th in most parts of the World. From Australia to the United States, Israel to Belgium each have their own format and own name. Whether it be Veterans, Armistice or even Independence Day (Poland) this is unimportant; it is the act of commemoration that binds each country, each community, removing borders in the honouring of our heroes. New Zealanders are one of the exceptions preferring to hold Anzac Day on 25th April as their main day of remembrance.
“Between the crosses, row on row,”
Germany also incidentally has its own day of commemoration known as ‘Volkstrauertag’ which is traditionally a day of mourning observed differently by the main churches. The anniversary of the armistice is not commemorated but it is instead held two Sundays before Advent Sunday.
The poppy is a symbol of Remembrance particularly throughout the Commonwealth states. It was however originally started in the United States as a symbol of those lost in WWI. They were the first flowers to grow on the graves of soldiers in Flanders, and are the opening lines of the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian physician and Officer John McCrae after the loss of a friend.
“That mark our place; and in the sky”
Paper poppies are worn on clothing for weeks before the actual day, and wreaths of poppies are among those laid at the memorials to the ‘unknown’ soldiers everywhere.
I was recently fortunate enough to witness Greece’s national holiday known as ‘Ochi Day’ held on the 28th October. It celebrates the day in 1940 that General Ioannis Metaxas refused Benito Mussolini permission to station troops in Greece. This is when the Greeks entered WWII and is probably the reason Hitler disastrously delayed invading Russia.
“The larks, still bravely singing, fly”
Although there are remembrance services held by Greek Orthodox churches throughout the country there are many other special events too. Most archaeological sites, museums and other public attractions seem to close, there are parades of children carrying flags and marching bands.
The remembrance services which in common with most Armistice Day celebrations include the laying of wreaths on the epitaphs, and memorials are the culmination of these events. They are well attended and especially gratifying is seeing how many young people participate. It actually felt to me as if they were celebrating the future of the country through its youth as well as its past.
Greek television also plays war films throughout the day, which although common to see films elsewhere unusual to this same extent.
My own experience was on the island of Hydra and all of the community seemed involved, but believe that this is common throughout the country.
“Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
Greece is in the middle of a crisis; there have been a number of general strikes and some unpleasant protests. I felt privileged to witness this island united in this manner even for just one day and hopeful such national unity will get them through their current troubles.
This unity is an important part of Armistice Day finding a common thread which binds a community together can be a huge part in healing long-standing wounds. Commemorating the sacrifices made by our true national heroes is I believe a perfect way to work towards peace.
This is what matters, by honouring our heroes, by not forgetting their sacrifices we can build a better future for generations to come. This is surely the true message of commemoration do not let their passing be in vain, and never let the madness of war take our best again!
- “They shall grow not 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.”