Sunday, 29 May 2022

The Changing Face of Remembrance?

When we join the service in church, at the local war memorial or watch the national commemoration on television we feel ourselves part of a tribute that has usually ended with the four words 'WE WILL REMEMBER THEM'. But how far can we say that this is what actually happens or has its intensity of commitment at the present time begun to fade as the end of the Second World War will soon be over 100 years ago. What has changed or have we changed in this period? The stone inscriptions, the bronze plaques and the statues of gallant service personnel still stand with their semi-religious connotations as visible symbols. Have we the viewers changed and has the actual Remembrance Day started to become just another date in the national calendar as time moves on?

The list of names on the monuments have varied from listing by social status, rank, alphabetically or even by street, recording the service and sacrifice made over several generations. From two world wars to the many lesser conflicts since. The roll of honour on the memorials is not the narrative but lists names, each with a unique story and a families' response to it. When first on view how more intense were the feelings of those gathered there as it was the only link with the departed as the actual burials of loved ones were scattered across the globe. Some vague place on a map and not in the local cemetery where at least the grief could be partly healed by a visit, a natural established form of mourning. A thread of continuity was attempted with the burial of the 'unknown soldier' in Westminster Abbey, the one that many could relate to. Now that there are fewer alive who served and as civilians lived through the Second World War and even their children are getting fewer, are we turning a personal connection into an annual historic ceremony part of each year and a history unit in school?

As the generations pass will we take a different position not only marking the end of the war but of the empire that much was sacrificed for? How did the colonial peoples of the European and American empires react to the savage and at times inhuman behaviour of their so-called superiors? Some commentators have written that SEAC (the South East Asian Command) should be effectually known as Save England's Asian Colonies. It has been called the forgotten war, but this may be that many recognised that the days of empire were drawing to a close even when large numbers of troops from the colonies were involved in the fighting. In a few years after the war all this dominance was swept away as there was little chance that things could go back to the old status. All the personnel who fought did their duty with courage and fortitude across the globe fighting for an empire that was already in decline but clinging to its imperial glories. Even at home change was in the air, and no longer would promises be enough - the Land Fit For Heroes of 1919 was irrelevant. A political landslide took place in 1945, the results of which we are still working through today. The Viceroys and Governors have gone along with the 'memsahibs' but what remains today is something else. We should remember that they fought for their own rights, for change and for a better life for all. A radical change across the world's political, social and economic structures. It is truly right that we should continue to remember them for their bravery, devotion to a common cause against evil and the sacrifices they made. Let us also remember with pride that this led to change, a better life for un-told millions of all races and colours and for this we should be eternally grateful - WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

henry wilson
Br Henry Wilson


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