Friday, December 14, 2012

Remembrance Day

In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, hostilities ceased on the Western front of World War One. In many allied countries, the date was declared a national holiday in order to celebrate the end of the war, and to commemorate fallen comrades and countrymen. According to the speaker at a recent seminar I attended, over time, the day has more of a celebratory atmosphere in France, while in Britain the occasion is a very sombre affair. 

During World War Two, the usual two-minute silence to remember those who gave their lives for their country was moved to the Sunday closest to 11 November. This was so that if 11 November fell on a weekday, wartime production would not be affected. Since this time, both the new Remembrance Sunday and the older Armistice Day (or Remembrance Day) have been recognised as official days of memorial. 

[For those readers who are not from New Zealand, in our home country we commemorate World War One and Two (along with other conflicts such as the Vietnamese and Korean Wars) on ANZAC Day, April 25th. In 1915, Winston Churchill formed a plan whereby the allies would take the Gallipoli Peninsula, capture Constantinople (capital of the Ottoman Empire, a key German ally), and try to attack Germany through the back door. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were directed to land at Gallipoli on April 25th but when numerous unfortunate factors collided, things turned to custard and the Corps suffered heavy losses. Finally, after eight months of heavy fighting, the remaining troops were evacuated. Over 11,000 ANZACS were killed and many more were wounded. 

After the war, ANZAC troops were remembered as good-humoured, courageous, and stoic. This ANZAC legend is often seen as a turning point in the emergence of New Zealand and Australian nationhood, distinct from their identities as mere colonies. Commemoration of both World Wars has traditionally taken place on April 25th, a day that marks great loss and sadness but also the birth of two brother nations.]

This year, the 11th of November fell on Remembrance Sunday, and we heard that there were to be special celebrations in the centre of London. Surviving veterans, as well as family members and current troops, marched to the cenotaph in Whitehall, and the Queen laid a wreath, and canon fire signalled a 2 minute silence. (You can watch a brief clip here:

We went along to celebrate the courage of living troops and to honour the deceased, who fought so that we may live in a better world. Whatever my personal views on armed conflict, I will honour the committment of our ancestors who so firmly believed in fighting for God, Queen, and country, and who helped to ensure that tyranny did not prevail. 

Waiting for the Veterans to emerge from Horse-guards Parade
Armed (police) gunmen hiding everywhere...

Lest We Forget
After the Police finally allowed us to leave - there was very strict crowd control - we walked to St James' Park for a sandwich and a bit of squirrel-spotting. A good end to a very special day.

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