Today is Remembrance Sunday, the day we commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts.
It also includes remembering all those from Ireland, even though the Republic is not part of the Commonwealth, who gave their lives.
Some 210,000 Irishmen served in the British forces during World War One of which 35,000 were killed – a figure that rose to a final toll 50,000 due to wounds received. That is more than were in the GPO in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916 and even more than those who claimed to have been. (I’ve never found out why the post office was open on a bank holiday.)
During World War Two when Ireland was a Free State, it was neutral. That didn’t stop some 50,000 men and women enlisting in the British forces to fight Hitler. (Sadly, a few misguided individuals took a view that they should support the German Reich.)
It is a matter of personal pride to me to see the Irish ambassador to the Court of St James (the UK) lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. It recognises the great bonds that exist between our two islands.
The Irish wreath is made of laurel leaves. I’m never sure why it isn’t made of poppies like all the others. After all, that was what was growing in the green fields of France during World War One. (I never call it The Great War as there is nothing great about war.) Might have something to do with sensitivities about Remembrance Sunday being “a British thing”, which it isn’t.
We cannot buy poppies this year as the Covid-19 crisis has prevented the usual sellers from going out on the streets to collect funds for the Royal British Legion, the beneficiaries of the poppies’ donations. The Legion is a charity providing financial, social and emotional support to members and veterans of the British armed forces, their families and dependents. But we can make a donation to help make up for the loss of funds made this year. Go to https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-involved/ways-to-give/donate
In Dublin, the annual Remembrance Sunday commemoration takes place at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin. The Queen laid a wreath there on her visit to Ireland in 2011. She also laid another one at the Garden of Remembrance in the centre of Dublin. This memorial remembers “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom”. It should not be confused with the Irish National War Memorial Gardens. The Queen’s visit and wreath at the Garden of Rembrance was a gesture much appreciated by the Irish people and another demonstration of the strong ties between these two islands.
I have no personal connection with Remembrance Sunday other than as a supporter of the event and an appreciation of what a terrible waste of human life war is. My friend Paddy Murray’s grandfather Edward Cox died on 27 May 1917 at Ypres so it means more to him, maybe. But I still feel the hairs on the back of neck rise during the two-minute silence. (Paddy doesn’t, by the way, as he has no hairs on the back of his neck due to having COPD.)
My only family connection with the British Army is through my grandfather who ran away from Blackrock College in Dublin and joined the Duke of Cornwall 2nd Light Infantry on 16 October 1894, at the age of 14. He never saw military action because in those days, it was the practice for half of a regiment to fight and the other half to remain at home in Britain. He served in the half that stayed in England. And he’d left by the time his half came to be called upon to see active service.
I always find the service from Cenotaph very moving but in a way this year’s was more so because it had to be scaled down because of Covid-19. But all the principals were there. The Queen, Prince Charles, the political leaders, the forces’ leaders, David Dimbleby…
David Dimbleby? Why was he there? He was doing the commentary on BBC One. I thought he’d retired but they wheeled him out for this. If they keep doing that how do younger commentators get a chance to have a go? Besides at the age of 82, what was he doing out during lockdown? Surely at his age, he is at risk? Shouldn’t he have been tucked up at home in East Sussex is his slippers, watching it on the telly? A poet called Robert Laurence Binyon published a poem called “For the Fallen” on The Times newspaper on 21 September 1914 and this is probably its most famous verse. Click here for the full poem.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.