I had a discussion with my Dad when I was down in Devon a couple of weeks ago. He was questioning why I don’t wear a poppy at this time of year.
As I write these words, it is 150 minutes to 11:00. I mention the time because I personally mark this moment every year. While I don’t wear the little red buttonhole, I do drop coins in the many tins and boxes doing the rounds. I guess the exact date and time is important to me. Of course exact is the wrong word, as 11:00 in that restaurant car in Compiègne is most likely 10:00 at my desk in West Hampstead. For me, the date and time are important as they help me connect with the events of 1918.
The minute of silence was made institution in 1919 on the first anniversary of the signing of the armistice (for you young ‘uns out there, the document officially ending the Great War was signed in a converted restaurant car in Compiègne, near Paris, France on the 1tth of November at 11 o’clock) and has continued since then. I make a point of pausing at that hour, every year, and thinking about what it all means.
Today, the (now two) minutes silence is to commemorate the fallen of both world wars, as well as all the others since then. I can’t help thinking that if this continues long enough, the eleventh will almost become a commemoration of war itself. When Mary Falby, my granfather’s sister-in-law (well, his cousin’s wife, I think), grieved those first years, she was mourning her husband Edward who died in the Somme in 1916. The armistice was not just the end of a war, it was the end of a very specific type of war—a wake-up call to the world that our way of life had gone horribly, terribly, devastatingly wrong and that we owed it to the dead to not do it again. If Mary respected that first minute’s silence, I’d like to think that it was not to commemorate the dead of the Napoleonic wars, the Hundred Years war or any other, it was to say that this time, we mourn our dead with our eyes open. In a sense, those thousands fell for a higher purpose, that their sons and grandsons not also fall.
Generations of people have been marched off to their deaths by their rulers. I try to remember that this is not some abstract heroic event, but more the consequence of politics and business. We can control politics, and we most certainly can control business. Please support the veterans with as much as you can in the collection box and please spare a thought at 11:00 (whether or not it’s a Sunday)