Thursday 11 November 2010

The Richness Of Our History: My Personal Experience Of Remembrance Day 2010

I often despair about how my generation is so willing to disregard the past. Yesterday, thousands upon thousands of young students took to the streets of London in protest at the Government rising tuition fees. The protests weren't peaceful; they were violent. During a week when a large percentage of the population are wearing red poppies, I found it quite upsetting that with our freedom, we turn to violence. Whilst some would say "it would only a very small minority" there was a much larger, silent minority, that were cheering them on and supporting them.

For me there is a big link - between what was happening yesterday, and what was happening today as me and my friend Raz made our way to a local remembrance service at a site that's historical significance has mostly been lost to the younger generations. I was saddened to see that me and my friend were the youngest people by about 40 years. Where were the other people of my generation? Where was everyone in between? My friend, Raz, was in agreement. And we felt quite sad about it. But then something changed in me-- which I'll mention in a bit but first let me talk about Derek and Bryan.

Derek came up to us before the service and, I guess, mistaking us for nine year old's asked "are you from the school?" We explained that we weren't -- and we got chatting. He began sharing many stories with us from when he was a young kid during the war. Like so many, his home was bombed. Like so many, he was so nearly killed. Like so many, he was injured in a way that has affected him his whole life. Like so many, he was evacuated as a child and taken away from his family, with no way to contact them. His stories were so amazing; at times inspiring, at times upsetting, but more often than not just extremely EXCITING! He was a young boy during wartime. And he had some great times. But he also had some very bad times -- and his emotions ranged from ecstatic and excited to deeply moved and emotional. Here was a man, in his late seventies, remembering vividly being a tiny kid in London.

I said previously that something changed in me. It was perspective. It came during the remembrance service as many incredible people stood up and shared a part of a story, a part of history, a part of themselves with the gathered crowd. I realized that, in terms of my generation and remembrance, the important people aren't the millions who don't show up. The important ones are people like me and Raz. That's what it is now. That's how history lives on, through two people or four people or one person or one school project that does something to help it live on. That's more powerful than a mass crowd. 30,000 students descended on London yesterday and smashed some buildings up -- the issue was lost, we were left with destruction. But two friends surrounded by warm and inspiring war veterans is something more powerful. My friend, Raz; is a very open, sensitive, and passionate Muslim man -- who came along on this cold, wet morning; to stand side by side with lots of old white people. Because he knew that color wasn't the issue. It's bigger than that. And there's me, a writer and a film director. If I go to a remembrance service but the 300 Facebook friends I invited didn't--- it doesn't matter. It's not about them. It's about me. It's about people like me. It's about showing up.

Who cares? It's in the past!? Have you ever heard that one? History is not in the past -- it relives itself every day. We can see history all around us. Today, as I connected with Derek and Bryan; they talked and they laughed and they cried, and so did we. They told me stories about the places I grew up --- places I know as parks and fields and shops but they know as airfields and command offices and places they'd find interesting bits of shrapnel.

Today was important, because we were able to say we're here. We're listening. We care. Our generation doesn't do that enough. We sit on Facebook, we write on our blogs and we send our text messages; but we don't have a great deal of awareness about what people have gone through in order for us to have those privileges. Derek was telling us stories today about people like the RAF BOMBER COMMAND, who had 55,000 aircrew KILLED during World War 2. Nothing has been done to commemorate these people. And to commemorate is important. That piece of cement in the ground, it needs to be there so we can say WE CARE. WE KNOW WHAT YOU DID. WE LOVE ALL OF YOU. What could be more important? The most I've volunteered to do recently was look after my friend's daughter for a night so she could have a night out. These fighters volunteered their lives, FOR US. FOR YOU, FOR ME, for everyone who's ever felt a moment of freedom in their lives. From the RAF Bomber Squad website "They died in blazing, crashing aircraft whilst fighting against the enemies of our free world. It is nothing short of a national disgrace that Britain has so far failed to properly recognise this brave and talented group of individuals." That's just one example of people who aren't recognized as much as they should be. There are many more. I'm sure you'll have examples, and people that are meaningful to you. 

Today was a good day. I felt a shift in the world, in my world. It's not about the apathy of those who don't take time to remember, or of the school who are ACROSS THE ROAD from the memorial who didn't respond to their Remembrance Service invite. It's about those men and women who were there. It's about those who fought, those who looked after our children, those who worked in factories contributing to the effort. It's about those who died and those who survived. And it's about me and you, in whatever way we can, REMEMBERING. And SHARING. And engaging people who have the capacity to be engaged on this topic; the topic being to remember. History is present all around us. There is a lot of pain, for a lot of people, and by taking the time to hear their pain you are giving them so much, and you are being given so much. There is also a richness and beauty to their memories; the joy, the victories and the camaraderie that they felt and still do. 

I'm glad you're all here.

Care to share?


  1. A great point, and a very poignient post. I truly wish that more people had your level of gratitude and respect.

    Lest We Forget.

  2. This is a most remarkable entry in your always enjoyable blog. Thanks much for sharing.

    It is incredible that Britain hasn't properly recognized those flight crews who died during the war. In many instances their families had no remains to bury and memorialize. The American historical writer James Bradley wrote about the naval pilots in the Pacific in his book FLYBOYS. A plane would be shot down, the crew lost, sometimes burned up, often swallowed by the ocean. There would be a brief period of mourning by the buddies who made it back for the guys who were lost. And then the personal effects of those killed were sent back to America to their loved ones. That's all they got.

    It's been said that a man suffers two deaths; the first is when his life ends, the second is when he is forgotten by all.

    Those who served and those who died deserve to live on in the hearts and minds of subsequent generations. They shouldn't be subject to the final indignity of being lost to history.

  3. I clicked since you were a notable blog. Glad I bothered to read this.

    There was also a great story on the front page of the Phila. Inquirer you might enjoy.

    Thanks for helping me to appreciate.

  4. Thank you for this post.

    As a freelance writer, one of my main jobs is with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I'm the education consultant. I research and produce DVDs for them to tell the stories of some of the people we commemorate.

    I'm not a historian; I'm not interested in battles or dates;I'm interested in people, their courage, compassion and sacrifice; I'm interested in the people they left behind and how one death in war can have such an enduring impact on a family, a community, a nation.

    This year, we have brought out a new DVD called 'Forever India' which looks at the contribution of undivided (pre-partition) India in the First World War - as a prelude to a much more detailed exploration of the two world wars next year.

    I'd consider it a privilege to send a copy to your friend Raz - and you too, if you would like me to.

  5. As a post-script - I'm not quite sure where all this talk about members of Bomber Command going uncommemorated comes from. Perhaps it's that they don't have a special memorial all of their own?

    The RAF Memorial at Runnymede commemorates these men.

    Here is a link to a pdf which gives a lot of information about it:

    (sorry, I'm not sure how to make a hyperlink in this blog - but you could cut and paste)

  6. Please don't attack the students.

    My daughter was in that protest and she, and all the other real students, were on their way home when the anarchists started the trouble.

    Believing the press is a sure way to make wrong decisions.

    As for the rest: Those who do not learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.

  7. Worse than believing the press - is believing your children! :P

  8. I really enjoyed reading this post. I, from the first hand, know how it is when you forget to REMEMBER and SHARE... We did...we didn't learn our lesson.

  9. A great post. Far too many people overlook the past, and the sacrifices so many made.

  10. Thank you for taking the time to remind me that there are people that truly do care about something! This was a refreshing read! Sometimes I look around and wonder if certain people even care and it makes me sad (but there are a lot of people out there that do care, which makes it beautiful).

    “I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, "Mother, what was war?"
    Eve Merriam

    “When music and courtesy are better understood and appreciated, there will be no war”


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