Remembrance Day has come and gone. At this time in 1914 (roughly 21H00) the soldiers were probably still dazed as they contemplated the silence around them, and the fact that they had survived. Many however would still suffer the consequences of their service for the rest of their lives, and for some of those servicemen the rest of their lives was a very short time. The after affects of their time fighting would affect their health, both mentally and physically. Many would return to broken homes and unemployment, while others would find solace in alcohol, and some would find peace in suicide.
Wind forward to yesterday, and I attended the two services that I had wanted to attend. The service at the Cenotaph in Watts Park was well attended by the people of Southampton, with a large honour guard and a band. They formed up outside the Guildhall and marched the short distance to the Cenotaph which isn’t too far away.
The weather was glorious, after a week of cold and wet, the sun decided to bless the occasion and we had a sunshine filled Autumn day.
I was at the back of the honour guard so could not really see much of what was going on in front, but then it was more about the occasion than being able to eyeball the proceedings. Besides, squaddies were dropping like flies, and the St Johns Ambulance girls had quite a time rescuing those who could not stay the distance. Many of the honour guard came from local youth regiments that are affiliated to full time military regiments, so many of the participants were quite young.
What I found interesting was the many other religious groups that were present and who offered “Prayers and reflection in remembrance of the dead”. What struck me though was that this was a city that had tasted real warfare, not too far away is the park that had an air raid shelter in that was hit by a bomb, and the building in sight of my window had been destroyed in the bombing. And many of the elderly that stood on the sidelines may have been young when the war was raging.
Then the wreaths were laid and the speeches were over, and the National Anthem was sung. An odd moment for me as the anthem this time around was different to what I was used to in South Africa.
The parade started to disperse and I headed across to the cenotaph to have a look,
The red Poppy Wreaths were neatly laid out on the steps in front of the flat altar like stone that is inscribed:
There was also a mini Garden of Remembrance where people could place individual crosses if they wished, and suddenly I regretted not having one with me, although I did have some back home.
Then it was time to watch the honour guard march off and head my own way, I had about an hour before I had to leave for the cemetery, so at least I could grab a cuppa and change into something that was less likely to be destroyed by the often thorny vegetation in parts of the cemetery.
I arrived in good time at Southampton Old Cemetery, and was met by members of the friends group that takes care of this wonderful cemetery. I have come to know quite a few of them and had I not been heading off to Salisbury would have definitely become a member. The cemetery has over 100 CWGC war graves in it, and I recently photographed roughly 96 for the British War Graves Project, so I do know where quite a few are. The graves had been cleaned up by the friends and already the weather was starting to change the colour of the white headstones. There is a Cross of Sacrifice at the cemetery, and this was where the Commemoration for Remembrance Sunday was to be held.
What was interesting is that there was a representative from CWGC present at the service, along with the Mayor of Southampton who had lost family in the war too. I dont think that he was the only one though, a number of elderly people were present, and I am sure some of the family may lay here or at Hollybrook. The honour guard was not a large one, but then there wasn’t enough space for a company strength guard, and many of the members were youngsters who had also been in the guard earlier in the morning.
Five cadets had been assigned to various headstones and were on hand to tell the story of the the casualty that occupied the grave, it was a great concept, and one that could be expanded in many ways in the future.
The service was brief, and 5 wreaths were laid by dignitaries, while a lone piper played his lament in the background. It was a moving service, and much more personal than that I had attended earlier in the morning. From there we moved across to the Belgian War Memorial in the cemetery where the Honorary Consul for Belgium in Southampton laid a wreath in remembrance of the Belgians that are buried in the cemetery.
And then it was over. I paid a visit to the grave of a Lt Stanley James Young, an airman from the RFC that died on 23 December 1917 in a collision in the air during training.
The cadet assigned to his grave provided an interesting insight into somebody that can choose whether to take up a military career or not, unlike us who were conscripted. I just hope that one day he makes the right decision, and does not become one of the statistics that go to war and never return. With all that completed it was time to bid the cemetery farewell. It was probably the last time that I would walk those grounds, so it was with some sadness that I walked through the familiar paths and past my favourite graves. It is a memory preserved in my photographic collection now, and hopefully I will find a new place to root around in when I am in Salisbury.
I did have one more thing to do though. I had managed to buy a plywood cross at the cemetery and on my way home I planted it at the mini Garden of Remembrance at the Cenotaph. On it I had written the names of those I remembered on this day, they are always young, and I know that they are not forgotten. One day somebody else will be the custodian of those names, it is an important task, but one which we must keep alive or we may forget the lesson that those terrible wars supposedly taught us.
Finally, on Monday 11th of November, at 11am. the company I work for paused for two minutes. The radio was on a BBC station, and they tolled the bell and suddenly we were all left with our thoughts, I did not expect this to happen, but the line manager had said that people could participate in that 2 minute silence, and everybody did. I felt very proud, and humbled that so many cared.
And so we close the period of Remembrance till next year when it will be the 100th anniversary of the commencement of that horrible waste of life. I don’t know where I will be then, hopefully it will still be in the UK, and once again I will attend the local service to pay my respects. At least I know I will not be alone.
Southampton Cenotaph may be found at Google Earth co-ordinates: 50.909654°, -1.405196°
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