Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Let's make Sunday 11th December 2018 special, and move on.

In four years time, the 11th November 1918, will be especially memorable. It will, at 11am, be precisely one hundred years from the Armistice which ended the Great War. And it will be a Sunday so that Remembrance Day and Rembrance Sunday will coincide. The participants in the deadly conflict which was the Great War are all gone but the links remain in the lives of the descendants of the fallen, and those who served in other ways or survived. Both my Grandfathers were in that War and came home. They were not, as far as I know, "heroes" - they just did their duty, and were lucky. 

The last British combatant of the First World War died in 2011, and with his passing those actual personal memories of what it was like have gone as well. In 2018 there is an opportunity both to make the centenary of the end of the War special - and to consider whether remembrance on 11th November is something that we should maintain in perpetuity. If we do there is an implicit statement that the Great War was in some way exceptional. There is an argument to be made that it was, of course, but the very fact that the "War to end all wars" didn't is sadly notable as well. 

I believe that in 2018 we should commemorate the end of the Great War with a last Remembrance Day in its current form. We should give the Poppy (only really meaningful as a symbol of the First World War's killing fields) a decent burial at the same time. The permanent memorials will remain, the tomb of the unknown soldier and the Cenotaph and the hundreds of war memorials up and down the country. But let's use the Great War's Armistice centenary finally to say farewell, and thank you. The idea of "Remembrance" is a powerful and important one and over the decades we have honoured the Great War dead. One hundred years on, in 1918, let us do that for a last time and move on

How should we remember the fallen of the Second World War and of Korea and subsequent conflicts? Not, I would suggest, with Great War symbolism.  And why don't we find a new way to honour not just the fallen of the Second World War and conflicts since but all our war dead in history. The fallen of Trafalgar, and Agincourt and of the Crimea and of Mafeking. And of Bannockburn and Culloden and Edgehill and Marston Moor for that matter. Let's choose a date but make it a moving feast - the first Sunday in a chosen month for example (moving on from the current practice of having two days close together - Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday - which is both a duplication and a confusion six years out of seven). 

In the United States the last Monday in May is chosen as Memorial Day  - it is a federal holiday for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the country's armed forces. This seems to me to be an excllent model. It doesn't place the fallen of any one war on some sort of pedestal but overtly honours all who died in their Country's Service. Whenever and wherever it happened. Let's make our Remembrance Day do the same.   


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