I’ve taught Remembrance many many times. I’ve done whole school assemblies in front of 100’s of people. I toured classes and taught it 15 times in a day to many many students. I hold a deep reverence for it as part of the school year.
I’ve have a personal connection to the battlefields of the First World War – having met my wife on a university trip to see the battlefields in the Belgium salient.
I have have crystal clear memories of nearly every second of that trip- of watching 6’6” paratroopers crying at the Last Post as it played, as it does everyday, at the Menin gate.
Of walking across ploughed fields and pulling up pieces of shrapnel and bullets, some still live, some with the cordite exposed that was still volatile. Or the shear power of seeing 11,000 names carved in white marble with the simple inscription:
1914 – Here are recorded the names of officers and men of the armies of the British Empire who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death – 1918 Or standing in the sea of headstones that simple read “known unto god”.
A body found but no family to give the man identity- no known place for his relative to mourn. I cannot put into words the power, the impact, the shear scale of it all. I was, and still am, profoundly moved by those three day in March over 15 years ago…
Running Deer School poses a unique challenge (what’s new I hear your cry!).
Never have I taught Remembrance in a school where I have such a close friendships or working relationships with people who have served in the Armed Forces. Who have put themselves in harms way to protect us, or those less fortunate than us.
Or those victims of geography who live in conflict zones.
I feel the weight of doing them justice, showing them respect. It could be very easy for me to say what I think, what I feel is important about the Royal British Legion’s Poppy appeal and the work that it supports. This would be missing the point, this would be me putting words in the mouths of those people.
Surely the point of all of this is to stop and listen to those voices, to what they are saying- to what these people want and need from us.
What I’ve learned that it isn’t about the grand, big, and ultimate sacrifices. It’s the about the everyday sacrifices of things we all take for granted. That we don’t even realise. Like the birth of a child, a missed birthday, a hug from your mum when you’re feeling low.
The cancellation of a special trip- a missed 1st date or a special anniversary.
Individually these things may not be much but commutativity these things add up. Couple this with the almost complete loss of status and identity on leaving the forces that happens, even the most mundane military careers and the impact is massive.
An impact those who haven’t experienced it will never understand.
These people gladly and proudly made those sacrifices, they’re those sorts of people. They just want that acknowledged.
For me personally, Remembrance isn’t about big parades or Sunday morning tv specials. It’s about always having in mind the personal sacrifices those people made. Listening when they speak without judgement or prejudices as to why they had to do what they did.
So that’s what I’m going to try and make Remembrance at Running Deer School this year. A reflection on the little as well as the big sacrifices. And a quiet and unassuming nod and a ‘thank you’.
I, that on my familiar hill . Saw with uncomprehending eyes. A hundred of thy sunsets spill . Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice. Ere the sun swings his noonday sword. Must say good-bye to all of this; – By all delights that I shall miss. Help me to die, O Lord.
William Hodge – 9th Devonshire Battalion. Written before the Battle of the Somme.
The entire battalion was pushed backed into their trench and killed. They all still lie there buried. Where their names are recorded and they liveth for evermore.
Lest we forget, cheers lads.