93 years ago, in a railway carriage in the north of France, the war to end all wars was ended with signatures on a piece of paper. The fighting was over, technically, and for those who survived the nightmare of the previous four years it was the start of a tidal wave of emotion – joy, relief, exhaustion, numbness. They were going home.
Only twenty years later, and the insanity would begin again, Blitz and Blitzkrieg and Dresden and Hiroshima. And after that, Korea, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan… And with every one of these, another list of the fallen, another reason to wear a poppy, red or white. Or, I guess, the freedom not to wear a poppy at all, to remember in your own way. Some might want to forget, and who are we to deny them?
At 11:00, the country will fall silent, because silence and dignity are perhaps the only ways to approach the enormity of what’s being remembered. Perhaps with distance from the original Armistice, we’re starting to lose sight of that – the poppy runs the risk of becoming a Shibboleth rather than a symbol of mourning, and that carries with it the danger of making it a fashion accessory, or a form of self-expression (as argued in this article).
But today isn’t about us, is it? “We will remember them”, that’s the key quote, the reason we’ll stop and reflect later this morning. If it becomes about us, our self-expression, we start to forget them, the troops that were sent out: those who died, those who returned, those who are still out there. We forget the medical needs of those who come home with terrible injuries. We forget PTSD. We forget that ex-forces personnel face issues that often lead to homelessness or prison. We forget poverty. We forget why we remember in the first place.
Today, nations will fall silent. Elsewhere, guns will still be firing. And we will remember.