It has not been the happiest of years, has it? But if you think 2020 has been a horrible year, bear in mind that 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 were far worse.
William Orpen was a successful painter, one of the most prolific of the official artists sent to the Western Front. In the summer of 1917 he revisited the Somme. Describing how he had last seen the area in November 1916 after a prolonged and bitter offensive, he said it had been a ghastly sight: “…. mud, nothing but water, shell-holes and mud – the most gloomy, dreary abomination of desolation the mind could imagine; and now in the summer of 1917, no words could express the beauty of it. The dreary, dismal mud was baked white and pure – dazzling white. White daisies, red poppies and a blue flower, great masses of them, stretched for miles and miles. The sky a pure dark blue, and the whole air, up to a height of about forty feet, thick with white butterflies”.
Some years ago, my husband was mayor of a small Bedfordshire town, so we carried out many civic duties, including attendance at Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day ceremonies.
One of the most moving moments is the reading of the fourth stanza from For the Fallen by Robert Binyon. It is so beautiful and poignant. My eyes always fill with tears when I hear it.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
In Britain, we traditionally pause for a two-minute silence to remember those killed in the two world wars and the British service personnel killed or injured since 1945. The first Remembrance Day in Britain and the Commonwealth was in 1919, although Australian journalist Edward George Honey is originally thought to have proposed the idea of a two-minute silence in a letter published in the London Evening News in May 1989.
King George V later issued a proclamation calling for a two-minute silence, it said: “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”
It is so, so important to pause in the midst of all our busyness and distractions and remember those who fought so bravely for us in the two worlds wards and later. We need to remember where we have come from as well as looking to the future.
Here in Stony Stratford the war memorial on Horsefair Green records the names of 96 men lost in the first war and 18 in the second. Milton Keynes didn’t exist in those days. Those boys going off to war would have been poorly educated agricultural labourers, many of whom had barely travelled 20 miles from the town. The experience awaiting them in Flanders hardly bears thinking about. But they went and they did their duty, until after four years of war, the guns finally fell silent at 11am on 11th November 1918 and the armistice was signed.
Armistice Day, also known as Remembrance Day, falls on a Wednesday this year. Thanks to Covid, we’ll have to show our respect differently. Those legally permitted to attend events as participants include those attending as part of their work, such as local councillors and faith leaders, members of the armed forces and veterans.
While people can stop and watch as spectators, they’ll have to stay at a distance. Members of the public are only permitted to attend the event with their own household or support bubble, or individually with one other person from outside their household.
It’s not just the observance that’s going to be different. The simple act of buying a poppy is more complicated this year. But, from displaying a poppy in your window to donating online or posting a poppy to your neighbour, the Royal British Legion is encouraging us to support the appeal in new ways, while following the Covid-19 rules.
The poppy sellers have not been able to do their street collections. But you can buy poppies and/ or make a contribution online from the Royal British Legion’s website. The suggested donation is £1 per poppy but of course if you can spare a little more it will be greatly appreciated. The net income from the appeal goes to the Royal British Legion Benevolent Fund and armed forces’ dependents, veterans and those bereaved.
Here at the Butterfly Loft we have made our contribution to the poppy fund and will be observing the two minutes’ silence this Remembrance Day, remembering, with profound gratitude, the contribution of service men and women to this country.
Stony Stratford is a wonderful place to staycation or work! If you’re thinking of staying in Milton Keynes and you want somewhere characterful, historically fascinating and tranquil, do get in touch.