Taking A Stand
Our Remembrance Day assemblies this week gave us the chance to come together as a school community and focus on the sacrifice of others. The last group of pupils from the school who were able to visit the battlefields of the First World War were then in Year 9 and are now in the Lower Sixth, which somehow seems extraordinary when you say it out loud, but makes sense when you think that the current Year 11 and Year 10 pupils are the two year groups who have missed out in 2020 and 2021. We are booked to go again next March, so let’s hope that this important trip will be able to go ahead.
The battlefields trip is always a good way to focus minds and develop a greater understanding of some of the sacrifices that the soldiers made, but even at such close quarters, with some excellent museums and knowledgeable guides, it is not easy to develop a real understanding of what really happened. Ironically, computer games such as Call of Duty may well be the best way for many young people to learn more about what war might be like, but I think I am always going to struggle to recommend a game over a history field trip.
I have a fairly standard script for Remembrance Day each year, starting by telling the children that it was an Australian journalist who wrote a letter in 1919 to the London Evening News, suggesting a two-minute silence to remember this momentous event. King George V read the letter and agreed. He issued a proclamation which said: ‘All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead’.
It also seems important to me to give the wider context of the day and to make the point that it is not just in this country that the Act of Remembrance is important. Until 1945, November 11th was known as Armistice Day. It was then agreed to change the name to Remembrance Day, to include time to remember those killed in the Second World War. Since 1945, this has been expanded to include a time to remember everyone who has been killed and injured in all the wars that have been fought – and continue to be fought – around the world, including civilians affected by war and, more recently, those killed or injured by terrorists. The dead and injured are remembered all over the world – for example Armistice Day in France, Veterans’ Day in America and the German National Day of Mourning – all held on 11th November.
In John’s Gospel, Chapter 15, Jesus tells us: ‘This is my commandment – love one another as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.’ We do not gather as a school to glorify war or to judge the causes or justification of wars, past or present. We come instead to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in time of war.
While it may be more difficult to think of excellence at this time, the other Radnor House core values are surely very much to the fore. No one can truly appreciate the courage of those who fight and are prepared to die for their country, nor the perseverance required to fight for so long, often in such terrible conditions. Above all, however, remembrance is about respect. We gather to reflect on sacrifice and the highest bravery; we are silent to think about what others have been through to help us live in a better world; we show our sincere respect for what has gone before.
The circumstances of the global pandemic have helped us, in an unwanted way, also to think of the heroism and sacrifice of those who care for others. If we cannot picture what war might really be like, we can nevertheless think carefully about what others have done, and continue to do, to help us. No one is now left alive who fought in the First World War, and those from the Second World War are fewer each year, so the Act of Remembrance is truly passing to the next generations.
During the last school trip in March 2019, I saw an inscription on one of the gravestones that simply said: ‘For our tomorrows, he gave his today.’ It was therefore our duty this week to give thanks for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, to remember and be respectful, and to make sure we do everything we can to make the world a more peaceful place, and a better place for current and future generations – however hard that may sometimes seem.
We heard the lines from Lawrence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’:
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.
And we also heard a more modern poem, written by John Bailey, who fought in Afghanistan in 2008. It is called ‘Taking a Stand’ and was written as a tribute to people he knew who were killed there.
I ask you to stand with me
For both the injured and the lost
I ask you to keep count with me
Of all the wars and what they cost
I ask you to be silent with me
Quietly grateful for our lot
As I expect you're as thankful as me
For the health and life we've got
I ask that you wish them well with me
All those still risking their all
And I ask that you remember with me
The names of those that fall
I expect that you are proud like me
Of this great nation of ours too
So enjoying all its freedoms like me
Support those upholding them for you
I hope that you are hopeful like me
That we'll soon bring an end to wars
So you'll have to stand no more with me
And mourning families no different from yours
'Til then be thankful you can stand with me
Thinking of those who now cannot
For standing here today with me
At least we show they're not forgot.