“When you go home, tell them of us,
And say, that for their tomorrow, we gave our today.”
I don’t think there are any more appropriate words for capturing the incredible sacrifice of those who have died in war.
These heartbreaking words were written by a local man, John Maxwell Edmonds from Stroud, in 1944. He was renowned as the creator of celebrated epitaphs, and also wrote the wonderful verse: Went the day well? We died and never knew. But, well or ill, Freedom, we died for you.”
Freedom seems to have been on everyone’s minds this year. In a 12 month period, that has seen Brexit, Trump and the ongoing, heartbreaking refugee crisis, as well as atrocities in France and Belgium, our tomorrows feel more uncertain than they ever have.
Rememberance Day in Cirencester was a beautiful, touching event. The sky was a brilliant blue, the air crisp, the sun strong and warm. There were poppies everywhere, brilliant in their colour, flags carried proudly by everyone from army captains to Scout leaders. Old and young gathered in the market place, to watch as local regiments marched through the town and a special service was held outside.
It felt important to have our child there, to witness this yearly act of remembrance, for it to slowly weave its way into the fabric and understanding of her own life.
During his sermon, the vicar talked of the 38 million civilian and military casualties from WW1. 38 million. A shattering statistic that it felt hard to wrap our brains around. Such a catastrophic loss of life. How to do you begin to remember that many people, that many lives?
In an attempt to make sense of this number, the vicar focused on the all too familiar story of just one ordinary boy from his hometown in Scotland – Charlie McKluskey – a young lad of 19, who wrote home to thank his parents for the delivery of some McVities biscuits. Then later wrote to tell them that he was heading to the front. He was never to write to them again.
During the two minute silence, at one point I found myself crouching down and wrapping my arms around Munchkin, tears in my eyes, as I said a silent prayer for the troubled world she might start to grow up in, for the conflicts that may still lie in our future, for the wars that may be our tomorrow.
May she – and all her generation – never know the truth of the sacrifice made by so many.
Later we took a moment to look at the role call of the names engraved into the side of the church, and then walked inside to light a candle for those gone and those still serving.
“God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!”
Rudyard Kipling, ‘Recessional’, 1897