Lest We Forget

With all proper apologies and deference to Jaywalker, and despite my parents having thoroughly enjoyed their trip there last year – there are an entire host of countries on my To Visit list that excite my culture vulture more than Belgium. However, this is not to say that you should not visit Belgium or northern France if you ever have the opportunity. In particular, I urge you to take your children.

I had wanted for a number of years to make the journey – a pilgrimage of sorts – to Belgium. Ieper, to be precise. Somehow I just never managed to get near the place. Eventually in 2004 I managed to kill four birds with one stone (thus slightly muting Hubby’s parsimonious squeaks); we decided to get the ferry over to Calais in order to buy the wine for our wedding reception. We I scheduled the trip for Valentines Day (romantic visit to Continent: check) and as my birthday falls the day afterwards (romantic birthday trip to Continent: check) I was able to talk Hubby into an overnight stay in the next country along, in order to visit Ieper (romantic birthday visit to the Continental War Graves: check).

I did not precisely distinguish myself driving through the last section of France – I turned off the autoroute onto a local road and promptly forgot about that whole pesky driving on the right thing. I have seen real fear in a number of faces during my life, and those in the cars driving straight towards us that day contributed significantly towards my overall total. In the midst of my horror I had a panicky idea about national police jurisdictions and therefore floored the accelerator for a few miles until we crossed the border into Belgium, before ceding the driving seat to a white-faced hubby. We then proceeded to the Ieper (Ypres) Novotel with extreme caution and ridiculously exaggerated courtesy to other roadusers. 

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That night, I stood silently at the Menin Gate at 8pm, and my tears and the heavy rain both poured as the bugler sounded the Last Post. With the sole exception of the 1940 – 1944 German occupation (when the ceremony continued at Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey) it has sounded every night and in all weathers since 1929, commemorating those who died. Every last one of them a mother’s child.  

We will take Harry there when he is old enough to begin to understand that they shall grow not old. We will revisit the Flanders Fields Museum and the Passchendaele War Cemetery. We will explain to him why we fall silent on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We will tell him why we wear poppies in early November, and I hope he will wear one himself with pride.

Sadly, it is likely that the last three surviving UK-resident British veterans of World War One will not live long enough to be present at a Cenotaph service that Harry would be old enough to remember into adulthood.

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Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110, and Bill Stone, 108.

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.

RL Binyon

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8 Responses

  1. We will remember them, those brave WW1 soldiers and as the years go on we will remember the brave men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wear my poppy every year with pride, and try to remind the children I come in to contact with why it’s important.

  2. Sigh. You can take a ferry and be in Continental Europe, just like that. Sighing louder. I can take a ferry from Toronto and get to Toronto Island.

    I’ve been to Vimy Ridge. The feeling there is one of sadness and eerie silence.
    Rita

  3. What a lovely post. I forget that there are Veterans in other countries that probably celebrate this day also. My grandpa is a WW2 “hero” (he doesn’t think he is, that’s why I put it in quotes) and I only hope my kids know him before he leaves us.

    Happy Veteran’s Day! Or do y’all call it Armistice Day?

  4. Ah. Remeberance day. The day my self-centred childhood reminded me that the NEXT day I better bloody get presents!

    As for the driving on the wrong side of thte road thing, I would totally do that. Serves the entire nation right for gettting it WRONG. 🙂

    J

  5. Ack. I promise I can spell.

    I just choose not to!

    J

  6. Ah, now you’ve made me cry. Last year I visited the CWGC in Stahndorf, south west of Berlin. Left fatally wounded on the battlefield in Mons on the French-Belgium border, my Scottish paternal grandfather died of gangrene in a German POW camp only four and a half months before Armistice Day in 1918. For close to ninety years my he has been surrounded by the beauty of the azalea hedges and Juniper forests of Prussia. As far as I know I am the only member of his family to ever visit the gravesite. His younger brother, also a King’s Own Scottish Borderer, perished on the Gallipoli Peninsula and is commemorated on the walls at Cape Helles.

    When I stood in front of the grave at long last, I realised that if he had NOT died then I, and the large Australian contingent of our expanded family, would not exist. My widowed granny sent two of her beloved boys aged only 18 and 16, twelve thousand miles across the sea, under an Australian Legacy scheme specifically for the sons of WWI casualties. They never saw each other again.

    Yeah, so at Villa Kore, we will most definitely remember them.

  7. PS: ON my recent holiday, I also bought and read a copy of Neil Oliver’s book “Not Forgotten”. It told me a lot about that war that I didn’t know and gave me some context on my unknown grandparents.

  8. Indeed we shall remember them.

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