The week has been busy and I have had a number of interactions with the United Kingdom’s national commemoration of the armistice at the end of the First World War on 11 November 1918.
When I was in Lincoln last weekend I saw rehearsals for a memorial ceremony while I visited the cathedral.
Then, at the football match I went to see in Lincoln, there was a pre-match rendition of The Last Post, a minute’s silence and a collection by, amongst others, a man dressed as a huge poppy. There was a similar pre-match marking of the armistice when I went to Oxford United’s stadium for another football game there. On both occasions, the bugle playing was eerie and moving as the notes swirled around the windy stadia.
During my visit to London last week to see a band with Middle Son (MS), I also fitted in a visit to the ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’ installation at the Tower of London. This consists of 10,000 hand-lit memorial flames and it was as impressive as the installation of bright red poppies spewing out of the Tower of London a few years ago. The flames are a remarkable and imaginative way of marking the end of the First World War and the sacrifice of so many soldiers during its execution.
The scale of that sacrifice became even starker to me as I visited another exhibition – ‘Shrouds of the Somme’ – at the Olympic Park to the east of London. In contrast with the Tower of London exhibition where the crowds were enormous and the queues were hours long, the Olympic Park exhibition was very accessible and there was more time to think about what I was seeing.
The main display here consisted of 72,396 shrouded figures – one for each of the British Commonwealth servicemen killed at the Somme whose bodies were not found – laid out in rows across a field. There was then a separate set of the same shrouded figures – one for each day of the First World War – labelled with the number of servicemen killed on each day. It was a very impactful exhibition.
The numbers of dead in the First World War are quite well known but still incomprehensible. The 72,396 are just the dead whose bodies were not recovered mainly because they were simply fragmented and lost in the mud. The 953,104 total dead represented at the Olympic Park are just those from the UK and the Commonwealth. The 9 million soldiers from all nations who died were far outnumbered by the more than 20 million wounded and beyond that there was mental scarring beyond understanding. It was a crazy, horrific war.
The nationwide commemoration and remembrance of the First World War – the centrepiece exhibitions I saw in London, the faces of soldiers etched on beaches around the country I saw on the TV news, the processions and the local displays and events, including a poignant and unexpectedly long roll call of the war-dead in our own little village – has all been very impressive and moving. At the Olympic Park especially, I had time to reflect on the importance of remembering the disaster of past wars and avoiding a repeat. The current rise of nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic makes the lessons of the past especially timely. Unfortunately, it is one thing to remember the lessons and another to act on them.
On a jollier note, MS and I had a really good time watching Roosevelt, a German electro-pop artist. I can’t recall smiling so much during a musical performance. The music is straightforward and the next note always seems exactly as anticipated – does that make it predictable or just perfect? Either way, we both had great fun seeing Roosevelt again.
Co-incidentally, he is from Cologne where we are having a Christmassy city-break next month. However, we went to dinner last night with a couple who are fascinated by bio-dynamic agriculture, the annual equinox cycle and creativity tied into the seasons. As usual, the discussions were fascinating but they didn’t want to talk about Christmas or our Christmas market visit until next month. Instead they wanted to continue focus on the joys of autumn. They are right; the autumnal weather is still good and the colour on the trees and bushes remains marvellous. Autumn is still out there waiting to be enjoyed.
I make no excuse for including yet another set of pictures from my walk into town this morning. I am privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy these walks every day.