Remembering them all
Volume 43, Number 11, November 2005
“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.” Over the next few weeks those words will be heard up and down the country at numerous services held at countless War Memorials, poppy wreaths will be laid, the last post will be played and, for a short while at least, the names of those whose lives were lost in two World Wars, and those conflicts since, will be remembered with reverence. BBC1 will show the Service of Remembrance and the march past the Cenotaph and we will note, with resigned sadness, how very few World War I Veterans, if any, were able to make it this year and how the ranks of World War II Veterans have dwindled so drastically recently. We will note with suitable humility how many lost their lives so that we may live as we do and then, as it should be, we will get on with those lives that our Fathers, Grandfathers and Great-Grandfathers fought so hard to ensure we had. There will be the usual horrified out-cries from the right wing press that the “youth of today” are sadly ignorant of the sacrifices their forebears made and there will, quite rightly, be those that point out that despite those sacrifices a new wave of veterans’ names have been added to the Roll of Honour and that British Servicemen are still dying in battle. Of course it is right and proper that November 11 is marked; we wholeheartedly support the two minutes silence and would see nothing detract from the significance of that and the various memorial services and ceremonies that will take place to commemorate the “glorious dead” however perhaps we could do more…? Too often, even for us medal collectors, our commemoration does not stretch far beyond 11.02am on November 11 and often, if our interest lies with the men and campaigns of the Nineteenth century, we may feel that the whole Eleventh hour of the Eleventh day of the Eleventh month thing doesn’t necessarily apply directly to us. Of course we will stand in silence and remember but it doesn’t actually mean the same for us as for those whose collections contain the medals of those men remembered does it? Well actually it should, Remembrance Day was originally used to remember the dead of World War I that’s true but just as later conflicts have been commemorated on that day there is no reason why earlier ones can’t be too. True the politics of the two World Wars compared with those of the “Empire Wars” might make commemorating the dead of the latter conflicts more “acceptable” in this day and age and remembering Colonial victories is never going to be altogether “PC” but that isn’t to stop us, as collectors, from making our private tribute to a man whose medals we are the current custodians of. Any of us who hold 19th or early 20th Century medals own something once belonging to a man now long gone; he might have worn those medals with pride, might have died before ever receiving them but either way he earned them – maybe in some sun drenched foreign field facing an enemy hoard armed with spears and overwhelming numbers, maybe facing shell and shot from enemy guns that he cannot see and knowing that their ceaseless pounding could well be the last sound he hears, or maybe out on the high seas facing everything mother nature, as well as his foes could throw at him – either way he deserved the medals we now keep and he deserves to be remembered. The medals we have are not simply commodities to be traded; they have a history behind them, they have a story to tell and so, on November 11, I hope all of us who collect the medals of those who fought in the World Wars or later will remember those whose names we know personally and maybe those who collect to earlier campaigns will take the chance to do the same.
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