Remembering by Phillip Evitt

Remembering by Phillip Evitt
Highfield Prep School Head's Thoughts

This Sunday sees our annual Remembrance Service in the Highfield Chapel at 7.00pm, to be followed by Highfield’s whole school Act of Remembrance on Monday morning. We will all be wearing poppies and the beautiful ceramic poppies, made by our Year 4 pupils these past weeks in their Art lessons, will be laid by them around Chapel Field as a part of that Act of Remembrance. But once these events are over, what do we do with our poppy? Do we throw it away? Or keep it for next year? Will it languish in a drawer until we come across it in a few months’ time?

The poppy is a symbol of our remembering.  So I want to ask of us all this bigger question – what will we do with our remembering after Remembrance Day? Will we put our remembering away until next year - when we will get it out again and brush it off?

How we remember and what we do with our remembering really matters. If we just put our remembering, along with our poppies, to one side, then I believe we will not have remembered rightly this Remembrance weekend.

Right remembering is about more than setting aside a day in a year to remind ourselves of the facts of war and sacrifice, and in particular the sixty-nine Highfieldians who died in the two world wars and subsequent conflicts. I never fail to be moved by the number of names, by the time it takes to read them and that the average age of these young men was just 21. For most, this means that their entire adult life experience was spent at war, and one from which they did not return.

Let us assume that on average each came from a family of four people, that each person had four close friends and say 20 other people they knew well and were close to, friends they had made at Highfield, at their senior schools, from work, in the army, navy or RAF, their neighbours at home, the sports clubs they played for, that kind of thing. That means that we have remembered the names of 69 people who died in war, but also indirectly about 2,000 people whose lives would have been touched by those deaths, some utterly devastated and broken hearted. Who knows how many tears were shed for those 69 lives? Who knows what each of those men could have gone on to achieve?

Remembering rightly is about how we live in the light of these facts and their sacrifice. Right remembering, honourable remembering, requires both honesty and vision from us. Honesty about our past – this weekend we must remind ourselves of the facts of wars and conflicts, past and present, and remember – with sorrow, pride, gratitude and wonder those who have given their lives so that we are able to enjoy our lives and freedom today.

Remembrance Day provokes a mixture of emotions in many of us. First and most importantly, there is profound grief for the lives lost, but there is also room for pride and gratitude.  The poppy, our national symbol of remembrance, was created in 1921 to be worn as a sign of mourning, when the terrible waste of young lives in the First World War haunted the whole of Europe. Not long after, it was worn for all those lost in the Second World War. In that conflict, this nation stood up courageously to one of the most terrible ideologies ever invented, Nazism.  Interestingly, in Germany, the day they observe for their remembrance in early November is not the 11th but the 9th, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the burning of Jewish synagogues and businesses by the Nazis, so that the memory of that hysterical hatred and the terror it unleashed will rightly never be forgotten.

Many years have elapsed since the defeat of the Nazis, but since then many more conflicts have cost the lives of soldiers and civilians, including those in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and the First Gulf War.  Remembrance Days in the 21st Century now add to these those lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which young men and women have died or been terribly injured.  Hundreds of thousands of civilians have also died in the conflicts of the past century and this century, and the horror of these deaths must inevitably be in our minds, as well as the memory of the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives at this nation’s bidding.

We must remember that every name on our war memorials, all the names we will hear read out at our Remembrance Service in the Highfield Chapel on Sunday evening and at our Act of Remembrance on Monday, is a person, and behind them, a family, friends, colleagues, communities and nation that is different because of what they did, and because they didn’t return from their mission to build a better future. That better future starts with us, now, because there can be no going back, only moving forward. Taking our remembering and our honouring with us, and not putting it to one side.

So, how will we remember honourably this year, in light of our remembering at our Chapel Service on Sunday and our whole school Act of Remembrance on Monday?  When we remove our poppy, we must think about what we will do with it, and the remembering that it symbolises. Perhaps we will put it in a particular place from where it will continue to nudge us in our remembering and in our actions. Above all, let it be a symbol of this vision for our future – individually and as a school community – that by living our lives with kindness, consideration and compassion and in striving for peace, we will remember them.

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