Did You Win Them?
This weekend I had the privilege of being in London at the Cenotaph to experience Remembrance Day. We took a tube from Tower Hill to Westminster and, as you might expect, came across people of all ages wearing a variety of coloured berets and medals - some wore them on the left breast because they served, some on the right breast because a relative of theirs served and others wore them on both sides because they served and had a relative who served. At one of the stops, I was very pleased to see a 10 year old boy stand up to offer his seat to a man who was at least 70 years his senior. The young lad looked at the old man's many coloured ribbons that held a variety of well-polished medals worn proudly on his left side and asked, 'Did you win them in the war?'
The old man laughed, 'No, m'lad, I didn't win them. I got them for just being there.'
His simple statement, made me realise how many men and women were 'just being there'. It spoke of a sadness too great to share with a young boy who wouldn't be able to comprehend the horrors that this man witnessed and survived, but also of comraderie born out of shared experiences. It spoke of bravery that only people who have served in active duty can truly understand - and fear. It spoke of loneliness when Remembrance Day has passed for another year and these aging ex-servicemen sit in their bungalows or nursing homes, when friends and family are gone or have forgotten. The brave new world of iphones and the world wide web must seem like a chilling and alien world to them at times. I thought of our service men and women who live with the consequences of war every day.
Once off the tube, we walked to Whitehall, where well-manned, airport type security stood like silver sentinels against the white Portland stone and security staff dotted the top of buildings, keeping watch over the crowds steadily gathering to get a view of the event. Helicopters flew overhead and the sun shone off the graceful birds. We stood for several hours chatting to people around us. The atmosphere was electric but sobering. Eventually the massed band played a rousing 'Rule Britannia', 'Men of Harlech', a lilting 'Skye Boat Song' and the moving 'Nimrod' (one of Elgar’s Enigma Variations). Leaders from the Armed Services, political parties and different religions gathered as the music played.
The first chime of Big Ben marked the beginning of the two minute silence. The only sound was the rustling of leaves on the massive lime tree overhead. We were alone with our thoughts under the sunny, blue sky amongst tens of thousands of people. I gave thanks for my father and his two brothers who served in WWII, my brother who served in the Air force, my brother-in-law who served as a Marine, my nephew who served in Afghanistan, my friend who served as Air Commodore for Scotland and Aide de Camp to the Queen, my friend's father who served in WWI and the man on the tube as well as all those 888,246 people who died in WWI. The canon marked the end of the two minute silence and the buglers played the 'Last Post'. It was incredibly humbling and moving. I would be lying if I said I didn't shed a tear or two.
I hope that today we will remember what was done for us all those years ago and what continues to be done for us all over the world today. I, personally, will strive to be worthy of those sacrifices.
To our locum AHPs, Nurses and Social Workers throughout the UK who will be helping people who, in some way, have served us in the past or present, I ask that you please spare a thought for them today. Some of them will have served in active duty, some will have developed and supported the technology that helps our servicemen and women, and almost everyone you help will know someone who has served. We are all connected. Always Remember.
Have a memorable Remembrance Day.