remembrance sunday
Culture and Identity

What is the point of Remembrance Sunday?

This morning, at 11AM, the Nation came together in remembrance of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and have given their lives in the defence of our Country – this annual tradition, held around the World, has added significance for us in 2020, writes Joel James.

The focal point of our Nation’s collective reflection, mourning and reverence – the Cenotaph – is exactly 100 years old. Likewise, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, whose rank, regiment and service are known only to God, was also dedicated at Westminster Abbey in 1920. Among those in attendance, as the Nation remembered those who shall grow not old, was a ‘Guard of Honour’, who had not seen combat, but were united in the grief of never seeing both their husbands and their sons ever again.

2020 also bears another resemblance to 1920, for as then, the United Kingdom is in the midst of a global pandemic, and though it has not reached the scale of the Spanish Flu, it has nonetheless caused catastrophic personal, economic and, I would say, cultural damage – though that is a debate for another day.

Like 1920, we have all made sacrifices, and some, like our brave doctors and nurses, have even made the ultimate one, but, as a conservative, I am a firm believer in how our past and shared history can both unite, and guide us, as we strive to overcome the situation we find ourselves in.

With this in mind, the question we must ask ourselves is, ultimately, ‘What is the point of Remembrance Sunday’ – or more precisely, ‘What can we learn from Remembrance Sunday?’

In my mind, the answer is simple, but every year we are nonetheless forced to witness the cavalcade of politicians, journalists and self-appointed mind guards who denounce our collective remembrance of our war dead as nothing more than an imperialistic anachronism, whilst without any true understanding of why we, as a community, come together to undertake it.

These critics, I have no doubt, are aware of the Kohima Epitaph, carved onto the Memorial of the 2nd Division in North East India – it declares:

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
 For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’

Inspired by Simonides’ ‘Go Tell the Spartans’, and the sacrifices those soldiers made to preserve western civilisation, John Maxwell Edmonds’ immortal words highlight the inheritance we have been given by those who have made a similar sacrifice for us, and for our tomorrow.

It is too simplistic and patronising to say that all we do on 11th November is remember our war dead. We do, but we also remind ourselves of the gift we have been given, and the duty we have to make sure it is not squandered.

Those who have died in our wars were willing to sacrifice their lives for reasons personal to them, but nonetheless these reasons can all be defined by what makes us ‘British’: for love of country, for liberty, and for a free, democratic and tolerant society.

It is imperative that we who are left to grow old, honour the inheritance that we have received, strive to follow such similar ideals, and make this a country, that those who have died defending, can be proud of.

Joel James is a Councillor for Llantwit Fardre on Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council.

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