Friday, 11 November 2011

Grey day in Blighty

    The 11th of November. Armistice day. A typical November day here in southern England, subdued lighting and heavy grey skies. Very fitting.
    Though I have one discreetly in the back window of my car I wore no poppy and I missed the minute's silence, mainly because I was picking quinces and I didn't have any means to keep track of time. As it happens I was thinking about a couple of people I knew who were war veterans, both WW2. I was fortunate enough to be in the last generation whose teachers had fought in the war. If you want a very realistic take on it all, get it from someone who spent the war in the nose of a Lancaster bomber, or on a Royal Navy corvette escorting Arctic convoys.
    The war - sorry, I should have said the War - is a national obsession here in the UK. My wife once remarked to her mother that British telly was all about the war and I hotly defended it, only to find Dad's Army and no less than three war documentaries on the evening we returned home.
    It was our Finest Hour y'see, Mr. Churchill told us so. He had one hell of a job of rousing morale to do back in 1940, but over the decades since his speech was delivered the war has been woven into our national mythology to the extent that it has become in a way synonymous with our national identity as a defining moment of Britishness rather than the global catastrophe it should be remembered as.
    So back to today. If you don't observe Rememberance, you are not remembering the War, and thus you are somehow not British. Or so the logic goes. We've seen it reach an extreme in recent years with the near-fetishisation of the act of rememberance in Wootton Basset, in which the ceremonial seems to eclipse the unjustness of the death of the individual. And you get the bizarre race among politicians and celebrities sometime around the end of October, to be the First On Telly Wearing A Poppy. Coquelicots nouveaux, like the race to be the first with the new season's Beaujolais.
    In the past week we've had a fuss over the national footy team's right to wear poppies when playing Jerry the Germans, yesterday there was a fuss over a Muslim group who planned to burn some poppies, and today saw the arrest of a group of far-right-wing English Defence League supporters hoping for a bust-up with some lefty campaigners near the Cenotaph. As if the Prime Minister didn't have better things to do as Europe goes down the pan, or as if the Met wouldn't rather be policing a load of ex-servicemen and women.
    You'll notice at the start of this piece I referred to today as Armistice Day rather than Rememberance Day. Armistice, the day that war ended. Because I'd rather celebrate the peace and pause for a moment to remember the men and women whose sacrifice gave us it than use the day as an opportunity to wrap myself in the flag.

5 comments:

  1. I'll remember Armistice Day when we finally really do stop the warmongering.......I wonder how far into the future that will be?

    Shirley Anne xxx

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  2. I agree, even though I am a Veteran I will remember!

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  3. I will remember tomorrow, when I will be able to give the true reverence to remembering that it deserves rather than get wrapped up in the jingoistic nonsense that the 11th has become. Rememberence was moved to the Sunday with good reason, let us not forget that.

    Although I never met great uncle 'Curly', who has no grave, I will remember what he set out to do and what sadly cost him his life.

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  4. A worrying amount of jingoism appears missing the true meaning of the event.

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