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.
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.