Battlefield Memories

2020 has not been the happiest of years, has it? But if you think this has been a horrible year, bear in mind that 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 were far worse.

One of the official first world war artists, William Orpen was sent to the Western Front. In the summer of 1917 he revisited the Somme. Describing how he had last seen the area in November 1916 after a bitter and prolonged offensive, he said it had been a dreadful sight: “…. mud, nothing but water, shell-holes and mud – the most gloomy, dreary abomination of desolation the mind could imagine; and now in the summer of 1917, no words could express the beauty of it. The dreary, dismal mud was baked white and pure - dazzling white. White daisies, red poppies and a blue flower, great masses of them, stretched for miles and miles. The sky a pure dark blue, and the whole air, up to a height of about forty feet, thick with white butterflies”.

It's reassuring to know that the horrors of war can pass and heal. But some things should never be forgotten. If we do, we’ll become too glib about our modern freedoms and what they cost us. Remembering should also prompt gratitude. Despite Covid-19, we still have a great deal to be grateful for.

Learning the lessons of history

Much as I loathe the very idea of war, that sentiment is to be distinguished from the act of remembrance.

Some years ago, my husband was mayor of a small Bedfordshire town, so we carried out many civic duties, including attendance at Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day ceremonies. One of the most moving moments is the reading of the fourth stanza from the beautiful, poignant For the Fallen by Robert Binyon.

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.

From 1919 the UK formed the tradition of observing a two-minute silence to remember those killed in the two world wars and the British service personnel killed or injured since 1945. King George V later issued a proclamation calling for a two-minute silence, it said: "All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead."

It is so, so important to pause in the midst of all our busyness and distractions and remember those who fought so bravely for us in the two worlds wards and later. We need to remember where we have come from as well as looking to the future.

History has a way of repeating itself and if we are wise, we learn from it. Too often our tragedy is that we don’t. In 1948 Winston Churchill said to The House of Commons: “Those fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

The troops went off to fight real evil in 1939, a regime that had tried systematically to exterminate whole ethnic groups and in burning books and suppressing the truth sought to re-write history. Thank goodness they succeeded.

Learning from history gives us the tools to explore the problems of the past. We need to look at our history with clear and honest eyes to learn the lessons, however painful they might be. We should not allow it to be overwritten of we don’t like it. This process allows us to see patterns that might otherwise not be visible in the present providing an important perspective for understanding current and future problems.

Although I’m talking about remembering the fallen and injured here, the philosophy of learning from the past applies to everything we do, including our working lives. Take it with you into your workplace.

Thanks to Covid, this year we’ll have to show our respect differently on Remembrance Day. Those legally permitted to attend events as participants include those attending as part of their work, such as local councillors and faith leaders, members of the armed forces and veterans.

While people can stop and watch as spectators, they’ll have to stay at a distance. Members of the public are only permitted to attend the event with their own household or support bubble, or individually with one other person from outside their household.

It’s not just the observance that’s going to be different. The simple act of buying a poppy is more complicated this year. The poppy sellers have not been able to do their street collections. But you can buy poppies and/ or make a contribution online from the Royal British Legion's website. The suggested donation is £1 per poppy but of course if you can spare a little more it will be greatly appreciated. The net income from the appeal goes to the Royal British Legion Benevolent Fund and armed forces' dependents, veterans and those bereaved.

Today I will be wearing my poppy with pride and expressing my huge gratitude to those who gave their lives to make this world a better place.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2020 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.