The soldier slipped to the back of his platoon from his place in the ranks and dropped to one knee sobbing. He was just the other side of the barrier from me on the Maes at Caernarfon where I was attending the Remembrance Day service this morning. A young mum quietly reached across the barrier with a paper handkerchief and squeezed his shoulder. Who knows what grief the moving service unlocked in him?
I also experienced deep emotion as I thought of my father, in prisoner-of-war camp from 6 June 1940 as one of those not able to be rescued by the army of small ships. He died in 1956 from kidney failure as a direct result of poor medical treatment in the camps. In recent years the importance and prominence given to Remembrance Day has grown steadily, perhaps because of conflicts in the Iraq and Afghanistan and the coverage they have received, notably with the moving scenes in Wooton Basset High Street.
A crowd of 500-700 people outside the barriers in the Maes included a large number of small children who seemed to sense the occasion’s importance and were quiet throughout the 45 minute service. At the end, the uniformed ranks marched behind the Mayor’s procession through a quickly formed corridor by the crowd who applauded all the marchers.
Later this evening Katherine Jenkins hosted a Remembrance Day edition of Songs of Praise which included a moving story of a young soldier who had been killed in Helmand. I was so glad I was on my own as the tears streamed down my cheeks.
A few years ago I broke a journey in northern France for a coffee and a sandwich. The inn I stopped at was opposite a Commonwealth War Cemetery and I crossed the road after the snack to look round. On a hot summer’s day the sight was strangely beautiful: rows of geometrically precise graves amid manicured lawns. As I looked at the inscriptions on the First World War graves, I was shocked to see that so many soldiers were teenagers – 16, 17 years old. Already feeling overwhelmed, I saw a grave slightly set apart from the rest simply inscribed, ‘Un soldat inconnu – An unknown soldier’. Feeling very emotional, I went back into the car and switched on the radio to hear Roger Whittaker singing “The Last Farewell”. One verse goes:
I’ve heard there’s a wicked war a-blazing
And the taste of war I know so very well
Even now I see the foreign flag a-raising
Their guns on fire as we sail into hell
I have no fear of death, it brings no sorrow
But how bitter will be this last farewell
For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly
More dearly than the spoken word can tell
I lost it totally at that point and for half an hour I cried as I realised the price that had been paid for my freedom.
I join with millions of others who said today;
At the going down of the sun, And in the morning, We will remember them.
Click on The Last Post to listen to the melody that accompamies every Remembrance Day.
(This post should have been uploaded on 14 November 2010 but I accidentally forgot to publish it.)