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A Day to Remember
Last uploaded : Monday 13th Nov 2006 at 00:09
Contributed by : Raymon Benedyk


First published on this site November 13, 2006

Ever since November 1920, the population of the United Kingdom has remembered those who fell in the Great War by standing in silence for two minutes at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year. In the years before 1939, whatever day of the week November 11th fell on, be it a weekday or otherwise, at 11.00 am everything stopped. All over the country traffic came to a halt, with drivers of cars, lorries and buses standing alongside their vehicles, office and factory workers downed pens and tools, school children their books, pedestrians, all paused in their activities as the BBC relayed the sound of the guns being fired in Hyde Park and the bells of Big Ben ringing out its eleven chimes. A most moving occasion, recalling those who had made the supreme sacrifice. Members of the public who were able attended the mass parade and Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

This continued until after the second World War, when the National Remembrance Day parade was moved to the nearest Sunday following November 11th, perhaps understandably necessary since the mounting of parades during the week did tend to interfere with normal routine and the flow of traffic. There were those who regretted the change, feeling that November 11th was a sacred day and not to be negotiable, but they were outvoted and the Royal British Legion had to accept the situation.

However, the Remembrance Day parade as now conducted, with its mass laying of wreaths and formal routine of marching army, navy and airforce veterans, most wearing distinctively coloured headwear indicating the unit to which they had been attached, from the white berets of the sailors who survived the convoys taking arms to the Russians on the Arctic convoys, the red berets of the military police, the green berets of the members of the parachute regiment, brown berets, blue berets, black berets, and many others, some also wearing the uniform they wore all those years ago, such as the Land Army ladies.

The contingent of London Transport personnel, still commemorating the fact that it was London bus drivers who were recruited to transport British soldiers in London buses to the front line in France during the First World War, the dwindling group of men from the Bevin Boys Association who had been conscripted to work in the coalmines to help provide coal for the war effort, wearing their distinctive white pit helmets and, in more recent years, widows and children or grandchildren of deceased veterans.

Some incapacitated survivors of the First World War now all aged over 100 were, until recently, wheeled past the saluting base in wheelchairs where the Queen, or whoever was taking the salute, acknowledged them. Lately, at a recent parade, they were all especially highlighted when they headed the parade seated in an old open topped single deck bus. The service bands playing marching music at a slightly slower tempo, to enable all the marchers to move along at a pace more in keeping with their years and physical disablements.

Some of the men and women taking part, now old and frail and well past their prime, some blind and being assisted by companions, proudly displaying in some cases, an amazing number of medals and decorations acknowledging their past bravery and participation in theatres of war and battles across the globe.

Nowadays, with the television coverage, one does get a glimpse of the proceedings, although this does not show everything, such as the security that goes into it all, when one can see the armed personnel on the surrounding roof tops, the metal detectors that all members of the public and participants have to go through, and the first aid units in evidence – just in case – although members of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade are often called into use as members of the public and those on parade have urgent need of their expertise. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the atmosphere and camaraderie surrounding the event makes it all worthwhile, even in the wet or cold weather that is usually in evidence.

Promptly at 11.00 am the guns can be heard being fired and Big Ben sounds its bell eleven times and there is a most deafening silence as, perhaps 10,000 marchers come to attention and many more thousands of onlookers all stand in complete silence for two most moving minutes, after which the guns sound again and the Last Post is played by a lone bugler. The Christian Service of Remembrance that follows is accepted by all who participate, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, as well as those of other faiths, as being a worthy way in which to recall those who did not return.

However, in recent years, as the number of former armed services personnel able to participate has declined, there has been the gradual inclusion of other sections of the community, representing all manner of groups not exactly to be considered war veterans, much to the chagrin of the military, i.e. the evacuees, factory workers, ship builders etc, but it is accepted as necessary to maintain the numbers of those on parade.

The Remembrance Day parade is a most moving occasion at which to be present, but for most of the aging participants very tiring. In fact it is not the marching itself which is the killer, but the standing around on parade when a seat to enable one to ease an aching back or rest sore feet would be most welcome.

But we are not there for our comfort, and a little pain and discomfort is perhaps the best way to recall those who gave their lives that others might live. In this way we remember our Absent Friends.

Raymon Benedyk November 2006


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