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Remembrance Sunday: It’s the very least we can do

November 8, 2009

“Did they mark 2 minutes silence here?” I asked the lady sat at the checkout in Lee Sainsburys.

“Yes. They always do. They’re good like that. Where were you?”

I hadn’t been at Sainsburys. Had it not have been for me getting lost on what I thought was the familiar journey from Lewisham to Landmann Way Reuse and Recylcing Centre I probably would have been home participating in the moment in the warmth of our central heated living room, watching proceedings on BBC HD.

As a piece of radio, the Ceremony of Remembrance from the Cenotaph was surprising. Nicholas Witchell annotated the solemn event in a reassuringly British way and yet hearing it on radio revealed the hour long broadcast for what it really was: a script whichreminds us about the military comittments this country is engaged in, with some interviews, ambient sounds and music played by a military band.

It is tradition. It’s what we do.

And yet on the way to the Reuse and Recycling Centre, I’ll admit to finding remembering those who have died in Afghanistan (and those who remain there and in other military arenas in the world) difficult. I’m not connected to those people. They are statistics in news reports. They are people I hear about, the sadder stories usually prepended with the phrase “the family have been informed”.

It was a difficult job for the Royal British Legion this year. With the last veterans of the First World War now gone, it has almost felt like this year’s Remembrance Day has been reinvigorated, perhaps even rebranded. Perhaps there are those for whom the sacrifice inherent in signing up for a job in the military should not be taken for granted by the rest of us. And good on them for making that effort to reestablish Remembrance Day in that way.

Nicholas Witchell’s words combined with the soundscape broadcast live from the Cenotaph must have had an effect on my sub-conscious. I’d got rid of the old cushions and the cardboard boxes from yesterday’s attic clearout when a man with a high-visibility vest shouted to a colleague across the forecourt “I’m going to close the gates now for the 2 minutes silence.” A sense of relief did rather pass over me. I’d not realised I’d wanted to mark the moment (even though I wasn’t sure to what extent I felt the moment could be marked personally), but the fact that Lewisham Council and its staff were doing so was enough for me.

I sat in the car, listening to the radio waiting for Big Ben to strike. Another man in a high visibility jacket came up to the car window I’d wound down and stood still. A man descended the steps from one of the massive bins, looked around him slightly confused and then stood still.

Then, just as the gates were about to come to a close a man and his girlfriend who had finished emptying their car, looked at everyone else in the forecourt, ran around to the doors, jumped in the car and drove off. They braked suddenly at the gates waiting for the binman to open them again before speeding out of the recycling centre.

“Why couldn’t he wait?” the lady on the Sainsburys checkout asked me, looking up at me as she gently scanned my savoy cabbage and placed in the carrier bag at the other end. “It’s only two minutes out of your life. I hate that. £40.80 please.”

I nodded in agreement,  keyed in my PIN, collected my receipt and shuffled off with my bags.

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One Comment
  1. It is the least we can do. They don’t have it here in Australia – all the war memorials take place on ANZAC day here. It’s odd having a Remembrance Sunday with no remembrance. Just goes to show how much a part of British life it really is.

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