Sunday, November 08, 2009

Things you learn by going to the Cenotaph rather than watching on TV

1. The Royal Marines have a hell of a band.
2. Elgar's "Nimrod" is a hell of a tune.
3. For most of the people doing the marching this is a grand day out.
4. Armies aren't just made up of the elite Guards regiments, many of whose members are still impressively ramrod-straight at 75.
5. Wars are also fought by an assortment of stock comic shapes and sizes who return in later years wearing a bewildering range of different-coloured berets above bulbous noses, their basic forces uniforms energetically customised in a way that means nothing to the onlooker but everything in the world to the wearer.
6. The silence at eleven is complete enough to allow you to hear the wind in the trees on Whitehall. The crowd are a lot more varied than you might think. There are young people and tourists alongside the usual preponderance of military families. In their shared ability to stand still and shut up they may be a self-selecting bunch.
7. The very last veterans in the parade, after the Sally Army, the Bevin Boys, the St John's Ambulance and the Boy's Brigade, were a group from the UK Border Agency. I don't know how I'd feel about that.
8. Near the end I spotted a couple among a Legion group. They were probably about my age. They were dressed slightly differently from those around them. I wouldn't be surprised if they were art teachers. They both had their coats open to display tee shirts. Printed on the front was a picture of their soldier son and his dates. The second one was 2007.


  1. Wonderfully evocative Dave. I was in my local bar in Japan and there by the bar was the box of poppies. So I put ¥100 in the pot and took a poppy.

  2. skirky7:03 pm

    I swear that last sentence sent shivers from the top of my head to the bottom of my spine. It's the difference between writing and typing.

  3. For many reasons, the very mention of Nimrod stirs very strong emotions in me. That and your closing observation had me welling up unashamedly.

    Thanks, and thanks also to skirky for "the difference between writing and typing".

  4. While I concur with the praise for this very well-written piece, I'm not sure I fully understand the comments about the last sentence.

    Regardless of the perceived rights and wrongs of the conflicts this country is involved in today, they're hardly being conducted in secret.

    It's just that I feel there is often a sense of amazement that soldiers sent to very dangerous places containing people who wish to do them serious harm can sometimes die, yes even in 2009. Tragic and horrible for those left behind? Undoubtedly. Wholly unexpected? Less so.

  5. NomadUK10:21 pm

    I have yet to make it to London on Remembrance Sunday; I'll have to do that someday. Your description makes it almost compulsory....

    a group from the UK Border Agency. I don't know how I'd feel about that.

    I know how I feel about that, but I won't bother going into it.

  6. The Border Agency absorbed the old Customs Service, which dates back to 1275 and numbered Dick Whittington, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Paine and Robert Burns as members (thanks, wikipedia). The king relied on the customs men to raise money to pay for his wars, so perhaps they do have a place at the parade, even if it is at the end. These days we put wars on the credit card, and the fighting in Afghanistan is effectively being underwritten by China.

  7. Re the last sentence.

    It's the old clash between the personal and the state, between remembering and rememberance. Dulce et Decorum est indeedy.

  8. Regularly made to sit up and moved by David's thoughts and comments.