Remembrance Sunday last weekend, and again a surprisingly large crowd from our village gathered round the memorial cross at the corner of the green. I remember when we moved here in the early seventies there would be no more than a rather pathetic handful of attendees, but since then we have had the Falklands, and Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the hope that war between civilised societies might be becoming a thing of the past has had to be put aside, with a resultant renewed awareness of freedom’s price, and a desire to remember those who have paid it on our behalf. So this week I offer on this theme one of my own poems, that I wrote after a somewhat larger gathering on Shirburn Hill to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of VE day in 1995.
The Remembrance (May 8, 1995)
We crowd the hilltop, standing in loose ranks,
A thousand, maybe, come from all around.
Scents of hawthorn, woodsmoke, trampled grass.
A chilling wind; grey battlements of cloud
Rimmed with gold, pale shafts of hidden fire
Fanwise to the west.
A queue for hot dogs; skittish children; prams;
A roped-off bonfire darting orange flames
This way and that, on cold upswirling air.
The minutes tick away. We wait, unsure.
For we were young: what grief was this of ours?
A rumour from beyond the sky, a shadow
That fled before our childhood. Fifty years
Is long for men, in life and memory.
Yet we knew names; we saw the sad closed faces.
Their grief has been our freedom. A maroon
Cracks like a whip. A deep obedient hush
Falls on the hill; coats rustle; one small child
Cries and is rocked. We stand. Two minutes pass.
Mist on the plain beneath, a white half-moon
Then bugle notes,
A roll of drums. The solemn statues move,
Speak and are ordinary. We go back,
Torches aloft; cars nose the narrow lane.
Something is served: at least, our silence said
All that the living can say to the dead.