Lest we forget
Yesterday evening I took L to see the poppies at the Tower of London. It was a tough call as we couldn’t go until after I finished work at 6pm, making it a long day and a late one for her. But I just felt that it was something I had to do with her. If each generation doesn’t stop to remember, to teach their children about the horrors of these wars (notably WWI and WWII) then it feels to me that those soldiers and civilians died in vain, and it will become harder to learn from our past mistakes.
So L and I headed to London Bridge, from where we made our way on foot to the Tower of London and its breathtaking poppies. Going relatively late, and on a week day, meant we got to see the poppies fairly close up and really take in the significance of the display.
For those who don’t know, there has been an art installation at The Tower of London since the 5th August, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, to commemorate the 100 years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War.
By its final day, today, 888,246 ceramic poppies will have filled the moat around this famous landmark. And why this number? Each poppy represents a British military fatality during WWI.
It’s not until you see the vast number that this signifies, with your own eyes, that you can begin to take in the sheer magnitude of loss of life. I was incredibly emotional whilst there, as I explained to my nearly 8 year old the sacrifices that these men made, and many more in subsequent wars. Seeing the personal notes and photos attached to the railings, in memoriam, was heart-wrenching.
L and I talked about how young these men were and how harsh the situations were that they fought in – trench foot, hunger, disease, frostbite and more.
I told her what her great-grandparents did during the second world war (unfortunately I don’t know about our family with regards to WWI). We talked about what the wars mean to her as a half French, half English girl, and I told her how the wars were different for the French, with their country carved up by trenches in one war and then occupied in WWII.
I explained to her that today is a national holiday in France as the country pays homage to its “poilus“, the name given to soldiers in the First World War, meaning courageous or virile.
We also discussed what would have happened to her if she were living in London (where we currently live) 70-odd years ago, talking about bombing, evacuation, loss of homes and loss of life.
We got the tube from Balham station, where we stood by the plaque to remember the 68 civilians who lost their lives there in 1940, when a bomb exploded in the underground station where many had taken shelter from the air raid.
We talked about the black-outs during the war which meant that this bus then fell down the crater in the road, caused by the explosion above.
We discussed the plight of the jews during WWII. We talked about what it meant to live in a country at war. We talked about what it means for L to live in a free country now. We talked about those soldiers, our great-grandfathers and great uncles, who sacrificed their lives so we could live in a country without tyranny.
There is one thing I want to share here today. This isn’t ancient history. Our way of life, the things we take for granted, are down to those men who gave their lives for us.
So if there is one thing you do today, do this – tell your children about what remembrance day is. Explain why we remember. Talk about what our ancestors gave us. Lest we forget.
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.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon (first published in The Times in September 1914)