This year to say it’s been a strange Remembrance time due to our current Covid-19 situation would be an understatement
But having said that many of us have adapted this year in the way that we choose to remember
My usual Remembrance Sunday would be attending the service around the War Memorial in Green Park, Heckmondwike & sometimes, but not every year, later in the afternoon I’d be going to nearby Cleckheaton for the parade and service in the Memorial Park
However this year saw me watching the service at the Centotaph live on BBC TV of what was of course a scaled down version. How strange & sad to not see the many veterans & organisations able to proudly march past the Centotaph, medals gleaming, shoulders back and wreaths in hand
As I listened to the strains of Elgar’s Nimrod as ever it never fails to bring a tear or two to my eyes as the band played so beautifully. The 2 minutes silence was held and observed by myself whilst Stacey, my partner, observed it on the doorstep as suggested by the Royal British Legion. A few selected people, I believe 26, were representing those who couldn’t attend and HRH Prince Charles with members of the Royal Family laid their wreaths and on behalf of HM The Queen who watched from a balcony in Whitehall. As usual Politicians old & new laid theirs and a religious service was held
I had decided later to take my dog Loki out for an afternoon walk and headed towards Heckmondwike. I reached the park and there was just myself there so I sat quietly on the bench opposite the War Memorial. I noticed 2 crosses had been laid on the memorial with personal messages written on them which was wonderful. A few wreaths had been laid as well earlier in the day by the local branch of The Royal British Legion & other organisations who had attended individually not in the usual numbers of around 150 that normally attend
I played Elgar’s Nimrod through my earbuds, yes it did raise a tear again! And I just sat looking at the memorial trying to convey to those named that I was here & hadn’t forgotten them on this day nor any other day. At its end I stood with the national anthem in my ears just to give these lads some kind of ceremony I guess, then I bid my farewells until next time. As I walked home I felt a sense of pride that at least I’d done something & I strangely felt content
Wednesday was of course Armistice Day and it was the centenary of both when the Centotaph, as we know it the permanent Portland Stone version, was unveiled by HM King George V on 11th November 1920 & also of the internment at Westminster Abbey of the Unknown Warrior
So I was working Wednesday on the train to London arriving at about 10.15am but I had a couple of hours break before working back. So randomly I decided to hop on the underground to Embankment station and head to the Centotaph. I’ve never actually been before either on Remembrance Sunday not Armistice Day. I arrived outside Horse Guards on Whitehall at about 10.45 but couldn’t get any closer to the Centotaph as the Police had cordoned off the footpaths with barriers. I stood with a small group of people. A mix of veterans, office & construction workers & the general public. Everyone kept well apart & most wore face coverings as well. Members of whom I now know to be from the Western Front Association paraded out from Horse Guards followed after by General Officers towards the Centotaph. The chimes of big Ben could be heard from Westminster at 11.00 and like many across the country we all stood in silence. The Last Post was sounded by a bugler and shortly afterwards the dignatries returned to Horse Guards and the barriers were lifted and everyone could head towards the Centotaph
As I walked I past statues of past Generals lining Whitehall such as Field Marshal The Earl Haig, Viscount Slim & of course Monty
Upon reaching the Centotaph you could clearly see the wreaths left by The Royal Family & others on Sunday. Some people were walking around it but I felt somehow as though it wasn’t right for me to do so, not on this day at least. A group of recent veterans proudly stepped forward, bowed in silence & saluted. Who were they remembering I wonder & what had been their experiences of war?
A number of news agencies were crouched busy uploading photos and reports on their laptops and some were talking to a WW2 veteran from the RAMC who was nearby in his wheelchair. I wanted to go say something even just Thank You to him but he had moved on and was chatting to someone else. So I turned to leave but I saw another smartly dressed gentleman walking slowly along the pavement alone with his walking stick in hand and Korean War & General Service medals on his chest
I approached him and asked him if he was ok and said that I’d noticed his Korean War medal and I just wanted to say thank you & that he & his comrades were not forgotten by me at least. Of course he replied that sadly he felt that he and his comrades had been forgotten, that no one either knew or wanted to know about that conflict. He said he was heading to the Embankment memorial garden and as I was heading that way I asked if he’d mind if I walked with him. As we walked he told me that his name was Sir Michael King and that he’d been a Sergeant in the REME. He described the conditions on Korea as horrendous -40 degrees Celsius in the Winter +40 in the Summer and I won’t print what he thought of the Koreans on both sides!
We eventually reached the gardens, after a few passers by had asked Sir Michael if they could take his photo, and we passed the new memorial to Iraq & Afghanistan and came to the Korean War Memorial. I said my goodbyes and that I would leave him in peace now to remember his comrades privately & thanked him again but if I’m honest I could hardly get my words out I was almost a blubbering wreck. How some of you manage to have interviewed veterans over the years I don’t know, I’d be in a right state!
So all in all a very different Remembrance week for me this year but one who’s memories will stick with me for a longtime. A humbling experience & certainly a week of reflection
Thanks again for joining me this week