war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




Remembrance Day 2006


Remembrance Day 2006 will be observed on Sunday, November 12. The annual service, incorporating the two-minute silence at 11am, will be held at the war memorial outside the town council offices. As in previous years, no doubt an informal gathering of Dovorians will also be there at 11am on Saturday November 11, when the Dover branch of the Royal Artillery Association will fire a gun from the castle to indicate the start and finish of that day's silence. This commemorates the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns finally fell silent after the carnage of the Great War -  "the war to end all wars".

Since then, however, there have been more than 125 armed conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who fought in the Great War have spoken of comrades standing in mud-filled trenches waiting to go "over the top", through barbed wire, to almost certain death.

On Remembrance Sunday such knowledge should both inspire and serve as a warning. We must always remain willing to show our respects to those who gave their lives for the freedom and security we take for granted. We must teach the next generation to respect the sacrifices made for them, but we must also think ahead. The generations ravaged by war are now fewer in number so we have few witnesses to the horror and madness. Soon their contribution will pass into history. Yet history is essential to any society; it acts as its collective archive.

However, this is not the same thing as remembrance, which is just as important. According to one school of thought national rituals should be phased out as the survivors of the world wars diminish in number. I believe the opposite is true. As each generation passes it is all the more important that the nation cherish the ceremonies and social practice that remind us of their sacrifice.

Remembrance rituals are not simply a means of honouring the dead and saluting those who survived. They remind us of where we came from and what we are now allowed to be  What precisely is it that we remember on this special day?

It is not, as some allege, the vulgar values of jingoism, but the dignity and the courage of which men and women prove capable at times of supreme hardship. The poppy signifies not he defeat of the enemy, but the lesson that survives the dead; that flowers will rise from the soil of the battlefields that are turned into graves.

We live in an age of prosperity and opportunity. The privations and suffering of the war generations are all but unimaginable to us. But beneath our culture of contentment lurks dissatisfaction, a desire that the decline of deference should not mean the death of courtesy. And that, the spread of wealth should not create poverty of the spirit.

Even today, we trust those who risk their lives for us and we look to them as an example. Today's squaddie in the Middle East is no less to be admired and honoured than the Tommies in Flanders. What connects them across the generations is the amazing ability of the human spirit to show grave under pressure.

It is easy to fall prey to pessimism and conclude that the values of the two world wars no longer exist. There are times when this seems to be the case. On our streets, there is a sense that civility is lessening, contributing to a post-Millennium fatalism. But that fatalism is not justified. Against the evidence of decline must be weighted the dedication of British forces around the world, added to the perseverance of the voluntary sector.

It is striking that so many young people wear poppies with pride - they understand that the flower is symbolic of something precious - they grasp the spirit. Remembrance is not only the tribute we pay to the dead. It is also how we seek to inspire the living and to preserve what is good for those not yet born.

So please join us on those important dates, when representatives of many ex-service and youth organisations parade with their standards. The events of recent years have brought the reality of war into the lives of many young people for the first time. 

This article first appeared in the Dover Express, p18, 26th October 2006
reproduced with permission

Copyright 2006 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved