I went down to the Cenotaph today and thought how you would have enjoyed the walk down to the seafront past the park where the small concert hall stands to where a group of people were gathered to remember the dead of war. We would have talked of many things on that walk, from anticipating the turnout; through the way the place has changed since you were young to those comrades you would personally remember at that emotive 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month.
I looked across the bay and thought you would have appreciated the view of the distant headland, and I remembered how you always seemed to thrill at the promise the sea brought of distant lands, romance and adventure. And surely you would have pointed out the late autumn dog-walkers nervously eyeing each other’s dogs for signs of trouble, the kind of quirky detail you would be bound to notice and chuckle about.
As I stood with the crowds I saw a late and solitary bee land on a beautiful white flowering shrub and kicked myself because I couldn’t remember the plant’s name. I knew it would be familiar to you though and had a wager with myself that you would probably have had the Latin name on the tip of your tongue. Your critical eye would have passed over the small, neat flowerbeds and found some small fault as well as plenty to generously praise.
As the hour approached I saw the uniformed men and women, boys and girls with their flags and regimental colours and recalled the Remembrance parades of my own boyhood with the local silver band, the families standing self-consciously outside the parish church because they were chapel but just this once they sort of forgot about all that and stood around dutifully. The self-conscious church-goers would walk out into the autumn sunshine, the silver band would strike up again with familiar military marches and then all would parade through the town to the humble Cenotaph and memorial garden typical of a small town - to remember. I learned then that no place is insignificant that has given of its best for the future of its children.
Just as the hour was upon us it began to rain a fine drizzle given greater force by the wind that blew the rain into our faces. I thought how you would have enjoyed that rain on your face and how you would have stood with a ramrod back and determined look, “getting your priorities right”. Then, when the wreaths had been laid and a piper had struck up to mark the end of the official ceremony the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds and I pictured you looking up into the sky, as you often did, as though a promise was about to be fulfilled.
But of course my walk to the Cenotaph was solitary; my gaze across the bay accompanied by memories alone; Came the hour I stood alone in the crowd, with a straight back and determined look that I hoped you would have been proud of. Alone because it was you I had come to remember. You, who mattered so much, made my world better by being in it, and then made “the ultimate sacrifice”.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember