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Monday, 10 November 2008

Remember

Remembrance Day. 9:45. Our brigade - glorified, vilified, mostly forgotten - leading the way in the main parade.
"By the left, slowmarch!"
The Union Jack hanging at half-mast on the flagpole sways, reaching out as we pass.
"Eyes right!"
"Salute!"
Crimson poppies blaze below craning necks and smaller, handheld Union Jacks flutter frantically to match the one hanging half-mast. Mottled coats flourish beneath wind-reddened faces.
The crowd's whisper swells over us. "Are they coming? Do you see them? Who's riding in the carriage?" They looks past our brigade, pointing, "Is that the band coming?"
A shrieking fife leads the way and wailing horns wrap us in sound.  Muffled bells ring from the cathedral tower, drowned like some of those we remember.

They shall grow not old, as we who remain 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

Bright uniforms glint in the November sun.  Scarlet tunics. Black trousers.  Tartan kilts.  Green berets.  Khaki battle-dress.  They are all in the parade.
But our grey uniforms lead.
This is our day.
The cathedral doors stand outstretched in welcome.  Soft gloom and bright light stripe the road beneath our leaders' feet.
"Files right and left divide!"
Thomas Atkins and Jonathan Brown step over the threshold and turn opposite ways.  The rest of us follow, peeling apart in formation to line the walls.  A younger, brighter company follows us in and carries its standard up the nave.  Then another.
The famous faces step down from their carriage and come in.  Conversation buzzes to a halt.  The congregation stands.
Against the wall, unnoticed, we come to attention.
A company of veterans brings up the rear.  Their polished medals swing on fading ribbons.
At the last, these are people we know and admire. They, like us, have stepped on battlefields and scurried through bullet fire.  A few even remember us.  Even fewer notice us.
And unlike them, our uniforms are bare.  Our only medals are memories.  Our only ribbons are scars that will never fade.  The only standard we bear is our name.  For each of us, only our name.
But every year, we come here to be outshone.
Every year, unnoticed, unasked, we lead the parade.
For this is our day.

We shall grow not old, as those who survived grow old
Age shall not weary us, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

As we wait, lining the cathedral walls, a boy tugs at his father's sleeve and points.  He points at us.  We catch his eye and lift weapons in salute.  His eyes turn to stars, though his father never turns.
On Remembrance Day, one person at least remembers us, notices us.
The forgotten heroes of too many forgotten wars.
We come every year to remember and be remembered.  Lining the cold stone walls in our ghostly grey.  Rank on rank of thinning faces that carry the last vivid memories of ancient wars.
Poppies used to adorn the fields where we fought, crowding out the grass like the blood we spilt there.
Now the poppies that crowd us from the battlefields are paper and plastic.  A collecting tin replaces the rattling drum.  And tomorrow the poppies will vanish, chasing our memory from the world like all your other unpleasant thoughts.  Dusty and forgotten, we will fade.  Until next year comes round.
Who remembers the unsung dead?  Who remembers those left behind in long gone years?
We remember ourselves.
We know the Unknown Soldiers.  We march with the nameless victims.  We form the nameless hordes of cannon fodder.  But each man carries his name in his heart.
We carry our standard high on our day.  In our hour.
Remembrance Day.  11:00
Our brigade - glorified, vilified, mostly forgotten - shouldering guns as the silence grows.
"By the left, slow fade!"

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