THE  DOVER WAR MEMORIAL  PROJECT

 

war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper
 

 

Articles

 

Remembrance Day 2007

"THEY SHALL GROW NOT OLD - AS WE THAT ARE LEFT GROW OLD"
by Councillor Bob Markham, The Right Worshipful The Mayor of Dover

Across the nation on November 11, the country's war dead will be remembered and their contribution to freedom acknowledged. Nowhere is that sense of history felt as keenly as it is in Dover, as the town's current mayor Bob Markham explains ....

Remembrance Sunday will be observed on November 11. The annual service incorporating the two minutes' silence at 11am will be held at the war memorial, outside the town council offices. An ever-increasing number of Dovorians attend, wearing their poppies with pride, to show gratitude for their hard-won liberty, for which so many died. I would like to appeal to all to bring younger family members, and to encourage family groups: "Lest we forget".

Young people benefit from the powerful message and symbolism of Remembrance Sunday, and from family participation on that landmark occasion. The act of remembrance enables their learning of the price paid for the hard-won democracy and freedom they now enjoy. Many decry our young folk. Here, though, is a chance for them to learn respect for and responsibility towards others. This, in a democracy, is the other side of the coin to individual freedom and rights.

The Huts cemetery, Belgium, by Simon ChambersSo join us, as the Dover branch of the Royal Artillery Association fires a salvo from our castle to indicate the start of the reflective period of silence. The poignant hush commemorates the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns finally fell silent after the carnage of the First World War.

Originally called the Great War, this was the war to end all wars". How ironic that sounds; for, since then, the Red Cross estimates that more than 130 armed conflicts have ensured, including our armed forces' current deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given its earth-shaking importance, the Great War is rightly enshrined within the national curriculum. The battlefields and war cemeteries in France and Belgium are regularly visited by our schoolchildren. Dover's heartfelt remembrance will help them appreciate this defining period of world history.

The Great War swept empires away, sowed the seeds for the dissolution of the British Empire, replacing them with the independent nation states, which comprise the map of Europe today. In 1914, war clouds gathered, inexorably, as the simmering rivalries worsened between the armed alliances which divided Europe. The dangerous rising tensions were personified by the aged Austrian Emperor, France Joseph, Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and George V, King of Britain and the Empire. Of these four powerful entities, only that of the British would still exist as the war limped to its bloody and exhausted conclusion.

The powder keg erupted when Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated by a Serbian terrorist (echoes of more recent, similar problems). Europe's fragile peace died with him. Caught in the grand framework of the titanic struggle were millions of young men.

Mobilisation ensured that these innocents were condemned to fight a vicious war of attrition and to live and die through the stalemate and slaughter on the Western Front. Our soldiers have spoken of living in two feet of water, in mud-filled rat-infested trenches. They were but cannon-fodder, awaiting the unimaginable terror of going "over the top" through barbed wire, to face almost certain death. The scale of carnage was mind-blowing, given there were some 400 miles of opposing trench systems, the remains of which can still be seen and shuddered over today. Haringhe Bandaghem cemetery, Belgium, by Simon Chambers

Yet there is a deeper meaning for this period. It marked the birth of our current age of mass participation, social equality, liberation of women and minorities, and the thrust forward in technology. Not all such changes augured well, as shown by the folly of the Second World War, the conflicts in Korea, Suez, and the seemingly endless list of wars that is still being added to.

On Remembrance Sunday, such knowledge should act to inspire us while acting as a warning. We must remain willing to show respect to those who died for the freedom which we take for granted. We must teach the next generation to respect the sacrifices made for them and we must think ahead.

There are now fewer left of the generations ravaged by warfare, so few witnesses to offer testament to the horrors and madness. Soon their contribution will become history. But history and remembrance are essential in society as its collective archive.

According to some, national rituals such as Remembrance Sunday should be phased out as survivors of our national conflicts diminish in number. I believe the opposite is true. As generations pass and there are fewer veterans to offer first-hand testimony, it is critical that the nation cherish the ceremonies and social practice that remind us of their sacrifice.

Our rituals are not simply a means of honouring the dead and saluting those who survived. They are a means of reminding ourselves of where we came from and what, thanks to them, we are no allowed to aspire to be.

We owe a debt that can never be repaid. This is why Dover Town Council has strongly supported the Dover War Memorial Project (see www.doverwarmemorialproject.org.uk) and the campaign for the George Cross for Dover.

Our young need inculcating into respect for our history, which enables them their freedom. So please join us and representatives of many ex-service and youth organisations parading their standards.

Recent Middle-Eastern events have brought the reality of war into the lives of many youngsters for the first time. It is critical that the younger generations learn what Armistice Day means and how vital the Poppy Appeal is in helping those who suffered the horrors of war for us.   

This article first appeared in the Dover Express, p7, 2nd November 2007
reproduced with permission




Copyright 2007 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved