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.
– R.L. Binyon
The Legion are the custodians of Remembrance. There are plenty of people who consider their bit well and truly done because they buy a poppy pin once a year. They promptly lose it, but remember it fondly when confronted by the sight of a Poppy Appeal Collector. It is absolutely worth noting that the Poppy Appeal doesn’t just run from October to November. Our ex-service personnel need support for more than four weeks of the year.
We have a war memorial in the village, a cenotaph around fifteen feet tall.
There is an order of service for Remembrance Sunday: the Poppy Wreaths are collected from the Clubhouse early in the morning, people from around the village appear at the memorial, and the Legion’s parade marshall leads a march past the edifice.
The wreaths are placed around the edges of the stone, and pinned in place in case of a stiff breeze. The march past is timed very precisely. After a moment of silence, the attendees continue their march down to the church and after a service of remembrance, they come up to the Club to raise a glass to absent friends.
I’ll estimate it was three years ago that our parade marshall made an error. He wore his bowler hat with pride, and had a military background. He barked like a drill sergeant. The civilians were terrified. They weren’t sure if they knew how to march, they didn’t know where to put their hands, and became altogether too focussed on their thumbs.
They marched as best they could (it was more a hesitant shuffle than a march), and the parade marshall brought them to a halt with a voice of thunder.
All year, the only words he had to remember were ‘Eyes right!’ to get the assembly to look at the war memorial and focus their thoughts. All year, ‘Eyes right!’
No-one knows quite how it happened but having brought them to a halt, the parade marshall called out ‘Eyes left!’ and they found themselves looking at the bungalow across the road.
Now, it’s a funny story but I don’t wish to trivialise his experience. I have no doubt he felt lousy about mixing up his left and his right for the rest of the year.
And I think I’m right in saying that that was the same year that I failed to set off the maroons on time. The maroons are individual fireworks which are set off on 11th November at 11.00am and 11.02am to mark the two-minute silence, which is our mark of respect for the fallen. It happens in towns and villages all across the country, all at the same time, every year. It really is rather moving.
One year, the wind was terrible, like a mini-cyclone in the car park and neither myself nor my friend Mike could keep our selection of lighters, matches and other fire-based paraphernalia, lit.
The booms are usually heard echoing around the valley every year; it’s like cannonfire.
When we were late, our first boom went off seconds before the final boom from the rest of the villages. Our second took the whole two minutes to get alight.
The two minute silence is, as the name would suggest, wordless. Unless you’re setting off maroons. Mike and I chatter for the two minutes, debating whether or not it has in fact been two minutes yet. We synchronise our watches to the BBC news, and each of us carries at least two lighters, in case of a flint crisis.
The plan this year consisted of the following:
Poppy collection at the local shop on the 10th, setting off the maroons on the 11th, church service on the 12th, and a war film on the 13th. I should have checked the run-time on the film I chose. It’s almost three hours long. I am having to swap it out for something shorter. I just don’t know what yet.
And with the shilly-shallying over the film, I think I’ll carry three lighters this year. Just to be sure.