Bagpiper, World War I
Blog,  Expat Life

Passing The Torch – Remembrance Day

This morning a sniffly S and I showed a defiant red ladybird umbrella to the weeping sky, secured our poppies in place and struck out for school to join others in remembering. The day means different things to different people – it means different things to me each year, as the passing of time renders me better able to see the world beyond my own miniscule indent in it. That’s why it seemed important to be part of the coming together, instead of observing the silence at home – where the damp day and embarrassment of tears brimming in my eyes could be avoided.

As a child of the post-war generation, I’ve never known the fear and chaos of war at home. My first consciousness of its far-reaching tentacles came at school, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The boarders were granted permission to watch the news in the lecture theatre during breaks. Many of them were from Forces families with parents fighting in distant lands their eyes had never seen. Their faces were gouged with worry and they hugged one another and shed tears – the separations of Year or Form suddenly meaningless in their shared experience of impotent agony.

The man I knew as Grandad was in the Navy, his brown, sinewy forearms bore a faded blue Jesus outstretched on a cross and hearts furled with names. He never spoke of it and I never asked, but I remember my Nana telling me of how she ran away to work in a munitions factory because she wanted to be a part of what was happening.

They’ve long since passed but I thought of them both today; wondered what they felt they stood for – the words they’d use to phrase their purpose. During the assembly, a group of students recited John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Field’ and the line that persisted after their voices receded was this:

 

“To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.”

 

Remembrance Assembly 

 

As a student from Year 6 told us about her great grandfather and shared a photo of them both together, she uprooted the weeds of distance and disconnection that obscure the path of recognition for most of us. Her love for this man, the reality she’s seen through his experienced eyes, and his small part in something bigger than all of us set me thinking about my own family. I imagined standing before my grandparents to answer for the life I’ve continued since theirs ceased. Have I with mine done justice to the sacrifices they made with theirs? What torch do I wish to pass on? What of my parents? Did they strive to be a change in the world?

Every Remembrance Day I’m reminded of the waste and futility of war, the squandering of life through an inability to live and let live. But today I realised something else: the importance of being clear and committed about what matters to you.

Sometimes it’s a struggle to be certain what we stand for. The lines become blurred, the differences too slight – we lose sight of the big picture. I learned today that not only is it vital to be focused about what’s meaningful to us – though we may have to stop and think deep and long because an answer doesn’t come readily – it’s imperative we’re vocal about it too. Speak out for what you believe. Don’t be cowed by disagreement and disinterest. For if we can’t stand up and be counted in the cushion of peacetime, if our privileged lives pass and leave our progeny none the wiser, what value have we been? What waste of this miracle called ‘Life’?

Today, for me, Remembrance is about marking the passing of those who’ve gone before through the force of my commitment, because through our actions our lives bear testament to them and give their brief existence continued meaning. I’ll try harder to be the change I want to see in the world so that those left behind when I’m gone will have no doubt about what my life stood for.

 

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

Laurence Binyon




16 Comments

  • Emma Lewis

    Yes, it is an important time for reflection. I was a post-war baby and even had a ration book as a child. I grew up on my parents’ memories of wartime. We had a (very scary and dark) bomb shelter in our yard. But you are right, it is a time for standing up and being counted. I so agree. Thank you for this beautifully written piece Aisha!

  • Lindsay de Feliz

    My grandfather was in the first world war – they took all his teeth out before he left for the Russian front. No idea why but they all had to have their teeth out before leaving. He was 18 and the government paid him a shilling. He died when he was 99. He was guarding the Welsh reservoirs in the second world war. I hate war with a passion. So much waste of so many young men in the prime of their lives. Remembrance to me is my grandfather, my father who died due to checking the nuclear bombs the French were dropping in the Pacific which gave him cancer, and all those thousand of young men who died in the name of war. You are right Aisha. We have a duty not to waste a minute of our lives. Those of you with kids pass on the right values and those of us who don’t have the luck to pass on our genes, make a difference. Let them not have died in vain.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      Thanks for sharing this Lindsay. Your info about the teeth intrigued me and I wondered if perhaps it was some kind of preventative policy (a bit like the Victorian idea of removing all teeth and replacing them with crowns to avoid pain and decay in later life) I found this on the Army Medical Services Museum website: “The wastage of fit soldiers through lack of proper dental care during World War I highlighted the need for formal organisation and proper provision and the Army Dental Corps was formed on 4th January 1921.” Perhaps too late for your grandfather but it seems dental problems decimated the troops and this was perhaps a crude way around it.
      Life IS a gift, sometimes we’re so insulated in our sanitised, vacuum-packed lives we lose sight of that. I don’t include you in that observation – you’ve already earned your stripes there, as anyone who’s read your book will agree 😉

  • Mellissa Williams

    It’s so important to remember those that have fought for our country. It’s amazing that many people do not hold a 2 minutes silence any more. How hard is it not to speak for that short space of time.

  • Rachel

    It is such an important time for reflection, I spoke to my nephew about why we wear poppies and have a 2 minute silence and being only 9 he hadn’t yet learnt about it at school x

    • Aisha Ashraf

      That was quite a surprise to hear about your nephew – that he hadn’t learnt about Remembrance Day poppies. Is he at school in England? Here in Canada they discuss it at an age-appriapriate level in ALL classes, from junior kindergarten up.

  • TheMadHouse

    I am a great believer in remembering the people who gave up everything for peace. My boys have made poppies, learn more about it at school and cubs. Ity is important not to forget

  • Marianne

    It’s so important to keep this tradition alive and remember what those soldiers did for us. My twins went to school with poppies on and they were very proud of the fact. We’ve started to teach them what it’s all about and will continue to do so

  • Sara

    I think remembrance day is so important! I never learned anything about the war at school as I dropped history before it was on the curriculum, so I’ve always taken it upon myself to take part in things like this and educate myself…and of course, wear my poppies with pride!

    Sara | This Girl Loves

  • Sonya Cisco

    Such a poignant time of year, so sad for those who were lost and the families they left behind, but frustrated at the fact we are still at war with each other all over the world. Wish I had a wand for world peace.

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