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As a teenager, way back when in the late seventies I was hanging out in the town centre on Remembrance Sunday, we’d heard the church bells and wandered over to the market square just as the tail end of the procession went by, there were a scattering of friends and family huddled by the war memorial as groups laid their wreaths. My grandad, ‘Granph’ was marching with the British Legion, he’d been an Engineer in the Royal Artillery, he saw me and stepped out of the parade to take my arm. I don’t remember exactly what he said, only that he was pleased to see I’d come (and who was I to disillusion him at that point) He impressed upon me the need, no matter what my feelings were about war and the army to remember those who’d lost their lives fighting for their country.
It wasn’t a long lecture but it stayed with me, because as I looked around at the threadbare banners and the old men, proudly throwing their shoulders back and saluting the memory of friends and comrades fallen in battle, I got it. I realised that he meant that all the pomp and circumstance was a message to all the people in cars and buses driving by and people not stopping to give the event a second glance that something important had happened that had changed peoples lives and no matter how we feel, or what we now know about the true horror of it all we should continue to mark it, celebrate peace and acknowledge the sacrifices made. Granph had moved on to talking about his beret when I saw a gaggle of ‘bikers’ laying their wreath, it was a strange sight. “That’s the bikers” said Granph, the committee weren’t sure about them, but ….
So today, whilst I stood in the rain to watch my daughter in her first Brownie Parade like her older sister had done some years ago, I noticed the difference. The crowd around the war memorial was so deep you could only see the tops of heads and the pennants and banners. The police had stopped the traffic and there were so many groups parading that it lasted much longer than that first parade way back when. The Brownies were last in their bright yellow hoodies, skipping along with not much idea of why they were out in the rain when suddenly out of the crowd stepped the Bikers, falling in behind in a sort of half-march and one of them clutching a poppy wreath. I was pleased. I may have been irritated that our local MP and a Lady ‘someone’ got to lay their wreaths before the veterans and army groups and the families of soldiers killed in Afghan and Iraq came last (someone should tell the local digs that its 2010 now and its not about them, it’s about the veterans and fallen) but I was pleased to see the Patriots still there. And it still puzzles me, that at the church service afterward we stand for the entrance of the local dignitaries in their fine regalia of office, rather than the frail old veterans and serving members of our armed forces – tradition gets warped and twisted, it’s meaning lost in the handed down processes of times and society long since passed by.
But importantly, we remember and stories are still told, bells still ring out and books are still written. If you want an insight into the lives of ordinary soldiers returning home from war, might I recommend ‘Storm Watch’ by Vanessa Gebbie, I won a copy from @saltpublishing recently, so began reading it with no preconceptions – it is quite the most touching, evocative and also ‘harshest’ book I’ve read in a long time.