Standing on a pavement trying to peer over the people pressed against the railing around the Tower of London, I wondered what we were doing.
We were expecting to hear the Last Post and I found myself wondering how many people now know what it is, and then whether that actually matters. We were expecting to see lights lit to represent the fallen of the Great War. What I came away with was a sense of peace.
I had asked myself what the boys who lives had been stolen would have thought, being remembered a century after they died; well, not actually remembered since no one knew any of them. I then recalled my researches that in 1921 the last of the Ordnance Factories, that had supplied the arms they used, had been closed because they were thought no longer to be needed. I remembered my initial reaction on reading that: how stupid! I now know how wrong I was and how sane that decision.
The tragedy that is the world wars of the twentieth century cost many millions of lives; it transformed the fortunes of nations; most sinisterly it nurtured a monster that we now know as the arms industry. If it didn’t create it, but it most certainly fed it and when the war ended the industry, hungry for work, found willing buyers wherever they could be found: a dreadful example of the law of unintended consequences.
This week we remember the dead and rightly so, but then let’s truly honour them by getting on with the job of living well the life that they never could.
A further reflection following the Service of Remembrance at Chilwell.
I wanted to attend this because my maternal grandfather had worked as a supervisor in the massive shell filling factory that had been built there in WW1 and where 130 men and women workers had been killed by an enormous explosion on 1 July 1918. My grandfather and his men and women had reported for work as usual the next day determined to do their bit for the war effort. The factory was one of those closed in 1921.
My other reason was that my father had founded there in 1934, on the site of the then derelict factory, the Army Centre For Mechanisation which would spearhead the introduction of vehicles of all types into the Army for WW2. It was there he met my mother; my grandfather was then running the large local building company that did much of the work on site.
At 10.45 on 11 November 2018 we gathered on the opposite side of the garrison road from the memorial to those killed in the factory explosion which is also the war memorial. There were people from outside the garrison, but more so wives and children from within together with soldiers not involved in the parade. First the soldiers marched up and took there place in front of us, and then the officers. Finally two military chaplains. The ceremony was simple, with wreathe laying and the saying of the time honoured words.
We then all walked over to one of the massive sheds which certainly date from WW2. it had been set out with chairs and in front were two large screens showing images of the two world wars and later conflicts. The Chilwell Military Wives sang two very moving pieces, (including Remember from their 2018 album) essentially about losing their men. The chaplain ended with a poem unequivocally supportive the the soldiers in his care. He spoke of the bravery and loyalty of soldiers to their brothers in arms. This was tangible.
So I come away with strands of thought intertwining. The men and their love for each other; the women and their heart break at the loss of their men. But then the obscene loss, I might say theft, of young lives and the wholly unintended and awful legacy.
Earlier in the day on Radio 4 Michael Morpurgo offered his reflection and underlined the importance of continuing to tell the stories ‘of what thy have done’, to take words from the song from War Horse.