Monday, November 10, 2008

they give their tomorrows for our today

I never know when it's going to start.

I've watched the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance for as long as I can remember, first with my Mum, then with my wife, now with our children. The tears start at a different point every year.

They came late this year: what set me off was two young children presenting a posy ofhappy 100th birthday to the Territorial Army - click to go to the TA website poppies to Air Marshal Ian McFadyen, President of the Royal British Legion (RBL). Possibly I was thinking of the sacrifices that might be asked of our young people - to date 220 have died in Afghanistan and Iraq - which was to be underlined the next day at the Remembrance Sunday Service at St Gallicus, where Scouts, Cubs, Girl Guides and Brownies presented their standards to the altar together with the Royal British Legion and the Royal Signals. There's a Royal Signals Territorial Army barracks in Cambridge - the TA celebrates its hundredth anniversary this year.

The Remembrance celebrations are full of history.

For example, one of the many, many regiments and organisations represented the Albert Hall during the festival of Remembrance, and on Sunday at the Cenotaph where the Queen led officials, veterans and widows in laying wreaths, was the Royal Scots, which was formed in 1633 under a royal warrant from King Charles I in order to fight in what became the Thirty Years' War in France, and another was the King's Own Scottish Borderers, which was raised in 1689 to support William of Orange against the Jacobites, who wanted to restore the deposed Stewart dynasty to the throne. Also represented was my grandad's old regiment, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and the Cheshire Regiment, also raised upon the accession of William and Mary and, until its incorporatation into the Mercian Regiment in 2006 was one of the last unamalgamated regiments in the British Army (and the first three have been amalgamated into the Royal Scottisclick to go to the Royal Navy websiteh Regiment).

The Festival of Remembrance is for all the forces, of course, and it was amazing to see the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines perform an intricate march to the theme tune from Rocky, including a burning guitar solo.

Also present was the Bomber command Association, the subject of a campaign by the Daily Telegraph to have a medal struck in honour of the "bomber boys" bravery. This issue has been dodged by successive governments despite Bomber Command's 55,000 losses, possibly due to Arthur "Bomber" Harris' bombing strategies, which undoubtedly shortened the war - for example, with the Dresden raids the RAF showed by targeting the German city furthest from England that there was nowhere in the Reich that could be considered as safe.

This recalls a present campaign by the Royal British Legion for the Government to honour the military covenant, the agreement by which the government will care for wounded forces personnel and their families in return for their putting their lives on the line. David Cameron has appointed best-selling author Frederick Forsyth to look at how this covenant, which is "well and truly broken", can be repaired. Forsyth writes:
In the United States, men and women in uniform are applauded on the streets; in this country, some commanding officers have advised forces not to wear uniforms in public because it might create public hostility.
Indeed, in an episode of a series of "Power to the People" called The Battle of Trafalgar Square, presenter Tim Samuels told the story of a seriously wounded soldier who, upon his arrival at an A&E unit in Great Britain, was told to take his uniform off in case it offended anybody. If that's not bad enough, the "aftercare" was worse: "He was told there were no beds, given a walking stick and told to go and see his GP. "

click to go to the Honour the Covanant website

Moina MichaelThe RBL records that the Poppy Appeal, whereby we honour the fallen and wounded by wearing a poppy on the jacket or shirt or blouse, started in 1921 and was inspired by John McCrae's poem In Flanders' Field. The motive force was an American War Secretary and YMCA worker from Georgia called Moina Michael (left). Gordon Brown instituted Veterans' Day in 2006, and I hope that again we follow America's example by declaring it a public holiday.

In the Draughty Old Fen, after the Service, we walked to the war memorial and the Royal British Legion laid its wreath, followed by the Royal Signals, then the Scouts and Girl Guides, then the parish council. There were a lot of families there, a lot of children - some of them forces personnel of the future - who did not forget to remember. A bugler played the last post while the sound of the wind in the unfallen autumn leaves recalled the falling poppy-leaves of the previous night's ceremony in the Royal Albert Hall. Rector Pellegrina had told the story of how poppies, which thrive in churned-up land, were found in abundance at the sites of battles in France. She had wound up her sermon with the hope that one day all the tears would turn to joy. Amen to that.

the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance 2007 is available on DVD/video - click for details

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