Thought for the Day - Rev Andrew Martlew - 10/11/2012
For most members of the Armed Forces these days, the Act of Remembrance isn’t just an annual event.
Those who’ll be standing this weekend in the fine grey dust of Camp Bastion will have already stood there in previous weeks, at Vigil Ceremonies before the bodies of dead comrades are sent home. They’ll stand again on three sides of a square, looking towards a Chaplain at a makeshift altar with the three flags flying behind. The Last Post will sound over the camp, and the two minutes silence will begin.
Something similar will take place, if Operations permit, wherever there are British servicemen and women across Afghanistan. In an isolated mud-walled compound, led by a young officer on his first operational tour. In a fort left over from the Afghan Wars of the nineteenth century, built by British soldiers in scarlet tunics.
I can only speak for the Army, but Remembrance Sunday ranks as a major religious festival at least as important as Christmas. If soldiers can keep the observance, they will.
And whenever I’ve led such an Act of Remembrance, whether on November 11th or sending someone on their final journey home, the silence has amazing power. It feels to me as though everyone on parade – of all faiths and none – is fighting their own personal battle, putting a huge effort into “keeping it all together” as they would say. Some will remember dead comrades, but some of us try very hard to avoid doing just that.
Tears make it difficult to read the rest of the service, I’ve found.
But the other element of this silence, which isn’t so obvious, is that it’s shared. In Helmand, across all three armed services – and with the whole nation, led by our Sovereign. It’s not the sort of thing soldiers talk about, but it’s something they are very, very aware of – perhaps one of the few occasions when the nation can express its support for our armed forces, whatever views people have about the wars they’re called to fight.
The two minutes silence encompasses families and friends, and unknown strangers at war memorials. And, of course, the very people whose decisions send our servicemen and women into battle in the first place. Perhaps we should include them in the envelope of support for those touched by war.
For me, in our Yorkshire village, tomorrow at eleven I’ll be remembering, because I can’t forget, the two minutes silence at a service in York Minster after our Brigade came back from Iraq. As the silence deepened, it was pierced by a woman’s sobs which filled the rest of the two minutes. Her husband was one of those who’d been killed in action.
The Act of Remembrance isn’t just about those who were on the front line.
Available since: Mon 12 Nov 2012
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