Sunday, 13 November 2011

This day...

I've come to realise that I was a strange child in many ways. One was my absolute fascination with war memorials and gravestones - I would spend hours wandering through churchyards, looking at the inscriptions and wondering. And I could never pass a war memorial without stopping and reading the names. I still can't - in fact I make a point of seeking them out wherever we visit. There are thought to be only 41 Thankful Villages in England & Wales. This is the name given to those places that lost no men in the carnage of WW1. Thankful indeed. The truth is that 1 in 6 families in the UK lost a loved one in the Great War. For some, the toll was far higher. Julia Souls of Great Rissington in Gloucestershire lost five sons...and there are many other terrible stories of unimaginable tragedy like that.Beloved brothers, husbands, fiances, friends....gone forever.
 It was as a result of our nation's need to mourn the appalling losses suffered between 1914-1918 that public war memorials were erected in almost every city, town, village and hamlet in the land. A place to visit and see a beloved name inscribed to honour their sacrifice, and their brief time in this world. Most servicemen in that war were buried where they fell, and so there was an overwhelming need for something close to home to mark their passing.There is a huge campaign in the UK at the moment to try and raise awareness of the plight of many of these historic monuments. Due to the high prices paid for scrap metals, many of the bronze and brass plaques and sculptures (and I've read that it could be 100 a week) are being prised off, stolen and sold, to be melted down and lost forever. To those who desecrate these memorials...that came about as a result of so much loss and grief and distress...and those who buy the metal (undoubtably realising where it's come from) I say shame on you.


They are everywhere...in the halls of most older schools, at roadsides, in theatres and at long-established factories...
This is one of 8 enormous plaques at London's Waterloo station to mark the employees of the rail company who died in WW1. Hundreds and thousands of people rush past on their way to the trains every day...I hope that sometimes they stop for a minute to look....

This one, on the memorial that stands on the hill where I walk Alice most days, is quite unusual. It commemorates men lost in the Boer War in South Africa between 1899-1902. Public memorials were extremely rare before the Great War when, due to conscription, the country was united in grief.

These stand in a Garden of Remembrance - something else that became common after 1918. A quiet, flower-filled place of calm and solace for the bereaved - and those who came afterwards.

We have two in our country town...this one stands in the churchyard. It is in quite bad repair now, it's stone eroded by time and the weather (the fate of many memorials) The other is in our Market Square, within a little Garden of Remembrance...with brass plaques containing the names of all from our parish who died in both World Wars. This morning, after the Remembrance Parade and the two minutes silence, poppy wreaths and little wooden crosses were laid there - as they are every year...

The little crosses often have handwritten messages to family members lost in conflict - current or long, long past. A testament to the need, the longing that people feel to remember, to think about and honour the sacrifice made by so very many young men and women in their desire to serve their country.

Whenever I pass one, I try and take a moment to read the inscriptions....the James' and Alberts and Cyrils and Walters and Freds...the brothers, the sons, the husbands the lovers. They are just names to us now. But once they were people - young men who laughed and sang and shouted and loved life and felt fear and pain and made mistakes just like all of us today.

We owe it to them, to all of them, to remember. xoxo

15 comments:

  1. Beautifully written and lovely tribute to the heroes of war...xo

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  2. Gosh Rachel what a good heart you have to feel such a strong connection to all those lost souls who died before you were born. That was very touching. But I wonder if all those millions were buried where they fell all across Europe, can anyone now plant a bush without hitting a skeleton....

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  3. Beautiful post. I have to confess, Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday don't come in my mind easily. Military days were not something we were taught of in Quebec (religious days, on the other hand...), maybe because we have a troubled history with WWI and WWII. Because so many were opposed to the wars and the conscription, we often forget that we were part of them and many of our ancestors died in them.

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  4. The first time I ever was in England, I stepped into a church which was in a very small village. There was a long list of names posted and I realized that just from that tiny place, that many men had been lost in World War I. Thank you for this post. I wish more people could remember and honor them.

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  5. One of my strongest memories of my first trip to London? Shopping at Liberty's (my favorite) and reading the war memorial on the 1st floor landing. So moving. I read all the plaques, too. This was lovely, Rachel. Brought tears to my eyes. xo

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  6. Bless you for keeping vigil in your heart for these protectors who came before us, and for reminding us to never forget. There are times when I'm overcome with both gratitude and grief for the sacrifices that have been made, and continue to be made, in the name of freedom. We can never take it for granted or forget why we have it.

    xoxo dear Rachel.

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  7. Thanks for the lovely comments. Of course, i should have said that they were buried in the country they fell in, Nancy - they are in cemeteries. Often tiny little ones in wooded copses, by the side of hardly used roads...everywhere in Northern France. And, still, over 90 years later every ploughing of the farmland that was once battlefields does indeed turn up skeletons...as well as live ammunition and hundreds of pieces of shrapnel and other artefacts. A testament to the massive scale of the tragedy...

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  8. That was just a beautiful post, and Nancy is a nut! She makes me laugh despite myself!!! I still have the little poppy you sent me years ago. Thanks for showing those monuments, of course we all want to know that the lives of the people we love so much are not lost in vain, but I have to say, I am very very down on war!!! My biggest fear was always that it would come and take my four brothers away, but it didn't and for that I'm my own "Thankful Village." Love you darling xoxo

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  9. Such a lovely post, Rachel! Thank you for sharing with us the photos of war memorials near you and for reminding us all how very important it is to actually pause to reflect and REMEMBER!

    Rosinda xoxo

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  10. We had a wonderful event happen here in Columbus, OH a few weeks ago called the Honor Flight. We flew vets from World World II and Korea to Washington D.C. to visit mounments, etc. Each vet had a "buddy" for the entire trip since they are fairly up there in age. My boss was one of them. The stories he brought back and the pictures were amazing. These were men and one woman right here in my own neighborhood that actually fought for us. I just looked up the YouTube link and am crying like a baby. If you'd like to see it it's titled "Honor Flight Columbus to WWII Memorial - Nov 6, 2011 - YouTube. I work for Nationwide Insurance and they are always doing wonderful things like this for the folks in our community. This was truely a living memorial. Have a great day!! Margie from Lavender Cottage

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  11. Dearest Rachel,
    Thank you for writing this truly beautiful tribute to the fallen heroes of yesteryear, may they always rest peacefully.
    I am shocked and appalled to read that memorials are being desecrated for their metals. The thieves are complete and utter rotters who have no regard or respect for anyone other than their greedy selves.
    Love Morwenna
    xoxo

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  12. This is a refreshing (in a literate sort of way) perspective on the business of remembrance. Thank you for adding to the stories that reinforce our need always to remember; you've done this with clarity and in a very creative way.

    I fear that those who desecrate these memorials, may not read anything that's worth reading (let alone our blogs!) and who do it to feed anti-social habits; they may even do it to feed their families? Who knows? Even if demography observes a change in the distribution of wealth, the gap between the have's and have-not's seems ever to widen and, like it or not, it is the have's who have always provoked war; the have-not's who pay its price.

    Sorry if that sounds a bit anarchist! It's not meant to be; fact is the have's need the have-not's, as much as vice versa. I think that the very least that all of us, who are literate enough, should take responsibility for, is to continue to chip away at the memory block; never yield to the effects of time in dulling memories; never allow anyone to forget the price paid by those who died; and whether they died willingly as heroes or incidentally as conscripted victims, none of them should ever be forgotten. Ever.

    Once a year, whether for two minutes or for two days over the Remembrance weekend, an emotional response and even a few painful tears represent a trivial personal sacrifice... just to remember. Thank you, Rachel, for reminding us that, between Remembrance Days we should take time whenever we see a memorial, to stand and read the names and quietly pay our respects to them.

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  13. Dearest Rachel,
    This is such a moving and poignant post. What a tribute to all of the men and women who risk their lives for the freedoms of others. The debt we owe can never be paid, but your tribute is a touching reminder to all of us to not take these freedoms for granted and to forever honor the fallen who stood on the grounds we walk upon with ease. I don't think you're odd at all in this keen awareness....it is a gift and I appreciate you sharing it with all of us.
    xo
    Joann

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  14. Beautiful beautiful blog. We commemorate it here too, and it was very moving to see out 'diggers' around the memorial at Cotton Tree. I was in the shopping centre at 11am and they played 'The Last Post', the whole centre stood still, which in itself is a huge tribute in these fast times. Thank you Rachel.
    Ps, I can attest you were indeed a very strange child.....xxxxxxxxxx

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  15. Hello and nice to meet you! what a lovely and thoughtful post. I too find myself drawn to old grave stones and markers. I love to read over the names and imagine who they belonged to.

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