Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembrance

On this day of this, at this time, 91 years ago, the French Marshal Foch, allied Commander-in-Chief and the German anti-war politician Matthias Erzberger met in a forest in Picardy, Northern France, and signed the armistice agreement which ended WWI. They were in such a hurry they never noticed that one of the pages of the document was pinned in upside-down.

What they were fighting about no-one can quite remember, but it was the Great War, the war to end all wars; that we all know.

Every year on this day we wear red plastic poppies to remember our “glorious dead” from that and subsequent wars. Some people start wearing them in late October, but frankly that’s just ostentatious. The correct form is: remembrance week only.

This year particularly, remembrance of our war dead is no great effort of recall. Every few days another funeral cortege passes through the Wiltshire market town of Wootton Bassett carrying soldiers fallen in Afghanistan on their last journey from RAF Lyneham to the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford where they come into the care of the coroner. The residents of Wootton Bassett have taken to congregating in the High Street to pay their respects as the coffins go by. At first the military authorities tried to downplay this, but now they’ve adapted to the new custom and put on a decent show with crawling black hearses led by a tall man in top hat walking at the head of the procession.

Notable by their absence at these occasions are all the politicians who sent the soldiers to war in the first place. In fact the only party leader to attend has been Nick Griffin, chairman of the BNP, who arrived unannounced, without the massive security team he needed at the BBC, and when asked by journalists for his opinion refused to comment on the grounds that it was neither the time nor the place for politics. In this, he shows a sensitivity and sureness of touch to which none of our actual leaders could ever hope to aspire.

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