This morning I sit, probably like millions of others, watching Remembrance Sunday on the TV.
The Queen leads the commemorations at the Cenotaph to honour members of the armed forces killed in conflict. She’s joined by political leaders and veterans for the ceremony.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, 70 years since the D-Day landings and the end of Britain’s conflict in Afghanistan.
I remember when I was a little girl, my great nana Rosa was babysitting while mum went to the Memorial Club in Newburn. One night each year, there was a big gala sort of program. There were people in uniform marching across a stage and then acrobats and gymnasts. At the time I didn’t know what it was really for but enjoyed the pageantry and flags.
What I realise now is that I had been watching the Festival of Remembrance at London’s Royal Albert Hall; where the Queen and senior members of the royal family join veterans and members of the public to remember Britain’s fallen, an event organised by the Royal British Legion.
Today, as I hear the sound of Big Ben chiming the 11th hour, and the last trumpets call, I do remember the dead, those who gave their lives to save ours. This year might be more poignant because of the anniversaries but really every year, month and day we should remember. I have been remiss in this but being involved in this project, I have the opportunity to keep this remembrance alive for me and others. Even though this project focuses on the colonies and ethnic minorities, this does not stop us from honouring all the fallen; all nationalities, ethnicities and religions.
Today, we feature our first poem donated to the project from Pauline Chumbley, from Edinburgh.
As autumn descended, all the trees were aglow,
With leaves changing colour, such beauty on show.
We stood shoulder to shoulder, heads bowed in prayer,
Pride mixed with pain as we pictured them there.
They’d signed on the line, went like lambs to the slaughter,
With promises made, of much glory and honour,
But the conflict took its toll, on body and mind
And “The War to end War”, was the title assigned.
For four long years, troops fought and died,
Amidst the blood and gore of that countryside,
On the infertile soil called Flanders Field,
Where little else grew, yet red poppies would yield.
At last came relief with an armistice to sign,
On the 11th of November, in a town called Compiegne.
The hostilities would cease at 11am
And the Western Front would be quiet again.
Then someone decreed as a sign of respect,
Each year at that time, we’d stand and reflect,
Of the millions who died and millions more suffering,
Two minutes of silence, with poppy leaves fluttering.
For twenty one years, world war was averted,
Though in 1919, that Irish one started.
Lives were still lost, though the scale was diminished,
But it was 80yrs on, before it, would be finished.
World peace didn’t last, we again, went to battle,
Troops readily replenished, often treated like chattel.
The 11th day was changed, to aid wartime production,
The nearest Sunday selected, to avoid interruption.
As World War Two ended, we stood as before,
On Remembrance Sunday and medals some wore,
Along with the scars, that were left deep inside,
They cried and they hoped that in peace we’d abide.
With the last of the veteran’s from Flanders Field’s gone,
We still honour the valour our Forces have shown.
In the years that have passed since “The Great War” was fought,
There has only been one, when the death toll was nought!
Yet, even with the risks so high, there still are those, prepared to die
To defend and protect us from any foe, to any lengths they agree to go.
Memorials honoured all over land, two minutes will pass, in silence we’ll stand,
All of us gathered amongst poppies of red, in thoughts we remember, “The Glorious Dead”.
Pride mixed with pain as we picture them there,
We stand shoulder to shoulder, heads bowed in prayer.
With leaves changing colour, such beauty on show,
As autumn descends all the trees are aglow.
About Pauline Chumbley:
Pauline was born and brought up in Edinburgh and comes from a Forces orientated family; her grandparent’s generation served during WW1, her parent’s generation served through WW2 and National Service and some of her generation have served and married into the Army, RAF & Royal Navy.
She has always felt a great affinity with those who chose to serve and protect us and for as long as she can remember, she has always honoured Remembrance Sunday and taken an interest in the stories her family have shared with her. As an RGN working with an elderly population, she is privileged to share their experiences of war. Through them and her own personal background, she has gained insight into the mental and physical toll that results from conflict.
Pauline has been married for 36yrs and for 22 of those, her husband was in the Navy. Her daughter was 17mths old and she pregnant with their son when her husband was diverted to the Falklands, his ship was the first down and the last back, but at least he came back, unlike some friends.
Life was hard for them at times, their longest separation was 9mths, but Pauline thinks it must have been so much harder for those involved, “WW1 and WW2, families were separated for years and endured great hardship and loss, ours was nothing in comparison.”
Pauline wanted to write something about the importance of remembering and honouring the sacrifices that were made, whilst also touching on the futility of war, she wrote “Autumnal Remembrance .”