While typing this, there has been footage shown on the BBC of the repatriation of two more British soldiers killed in Afghanistan . Their bodies were flown into RAF Lyneham and processed through Wootton Bassett. This was the 99th time that this repatriation ceremony has taken place. A very real reminder that the act of remembrance is not confined to the wars of a century past, but also of those which are very much a part of our present.
There are few events that can cause an entire nation to pause and reflect. There are even less that can cause such reflection on a worldwide scale. There are even fewer still that can achieve this on a regular basis. The acts of remembrance for the fallen of the Great War, and all subsequent conflicts since then, that take place on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day are one of those rare events.
As I’ve mentioned briefly in a previous post, history is a powerful force: events of the past teach us much about who we are and what we can be. The yearly acts of remembrance play an important role in history’s lessons.
Like many others in the UK, I attended a service of remembrance on Remembrance Sunday (8th November). I watched the local parade as it made its way to the high street, the subsequent wreath laying ceremony at the cenotaph, and attended the remembrance service with my Nana (who served in the WAAF during World War II).
I was also fortunate this year to be able to watch the coverage of the Armistice Day service from Westminster Abbey. This abbey is home to grave of the Unknown Warrior: an unidentified British solider from the battlefields of Europe who was repatriated and buried there on Armistice Day 1920. Eighty-nine years later, Britain marked the first year of remembrance where no British survivors of the Great War were present (the last of these veterans passing away during the preceding twelve months). As such this year marked not only the remembrance of the fallen of the Great War, but also the passing of the generation that fought it and survived. As the years between our present and their past grow in number, so does the importance of remembrance. Remembering the reasons why they fought, the circumstances under which they died and the lessons which we can learn from this turbulent period of our history. The importance of this inheritance was summed up by the Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the conclusion of his sermon during the Westminster service:
The generation that has passed walked forward with vision and bravery and held together the bonds of our society, our continent, our Commonwealth through a terrible century. May we learn the lessons they learned; and God save us from learning them in the way they had to.
This year the act of remembrance continued past Armistice Day. The following Sunday (15th November) I attended the ceremony for the laying up of the standard for the Boston and South Lincs Branch of the Burma Star Association at St Botolph’s Church in Boston (a.k.a the Boston Stump). A close family friend is a member of this branch, having served in the Burma Campaign during World War II; he also acts as standard-bearer for the branch. Local branches of The Normandy Veterans Association and The Royal British Legion Women’s Section were also laying up their standards at this ceremony.
The laying up of a standard isn’t a particularly long ceremony, but it is incredibly poignant. Once laid up, a standard is not carried again, it is not paraded again. It lies in its sacred resting place until it turns to dust. Before attending this ceremony, I attempted to find the plan for the service online, so I would know what to expect. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right, because I couldn’t find one. So I am going to close this post with the ceremony which occurred on Sunday, so that those who haven’t been to one can have an idea of what it entailed.
Laying Up of the Standard
Procession The standards were processed down the nave to the altar during the final hymn of the preceding service (Sung Eucharist) by the standard bearers and their escorts.
Act of Remembrance The bugler sounded the Last Post, during which the standards were dipped.
The Exhortation This was spoken by a member of the British Legion:
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.
The congregation responded:
We will remember them.
The Kohima epitaph was read:
When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our today
Silence A minute silence was held. Followed by the bugler sounding the Reveille, during which the standards were raised to the “carry” position.
The Standards Are Laid Up The Burma Star Association’s standard was the third and final standard laid up in this ceremony. A member of each branch took their standard, stepped forward and handed it to the clergy saying:
I commit this sacred standard of the [Boston and South Lincs Branch of the Burma Star Association] to you as Vicar of the Parish for safe keeping in this Holy Church for evermore
The standard is accepted and Reverend Robin Whitehead responded:
I accept the charge
And continued with:
May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace
The congregation responded:
And rise in glory
Organ Voluntary The Imperial March by Elgar was played.