When we remember…

The Remembrance Garden is open in Princes Street Gardens, serried rows of small crosses and poppies lined up in silent regiments around the enormous pillars of the Scott Monument. I took a few photographs last weekend as it was just opening ahead of the Remembrance Sunday weekend this weekend, volunteers from Poppy Scotland were still hammering a few more of the small crosses into the ground:

The smaller crosses are made for people to leave personal messages on – families of the fallen, old comrades and friends, some from conflicts long gone, a relative fallen at Arnhem in WWII, but not forgotten. There is a special section this year for more recent conflicts such as those lost in the Afghanistan campaign, bearing photographs of the fallen:

And there was one which had the simplest but most touching, hearbtreaking message that brought tears to my eyes:

A reminder, if any ever was needed that behind Big Historical Events, behind the bloody-handed politicians who make the decisions but never risk their life or that of their own, always someone else’s son or daughter or husband or wife, behind all the media pundits and their endless analysis filling the 24-hour rolling news discussions, behind all of that, individuals, ordinary people, taken from those who loved them, leaving them behind with a hole in their lives, in their hearts, a grievous wound that they will carry all the rest of their days, those left behind as wounded in their own way as any harmed on a battlefield. Again we can only wonder when the human race will learn.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…

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I usually try to take some photos of the annual Garden of Remembrance which is around the towering stone structure of the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens each year. This year I decided to try for some night shots again as I was pleased with how they came out last year, I thought somehow shooting this scene at night (well, early evening, street nearby still very busy, but sunset is by half past four now so you can start ‘night’ shooting at a reasonable hour then be back home in time for tea – there is an upside to the long, dark nights of winter). added something to the atmosphere, so went in with tripod and left camera lens open to drink in what little light there was till they came out, then since I had the tripod I walked my way back home, pausing to take more night shots of the city as I did, but those will be for another day.

Remembering the Fallen 03

Remembering the Fallen 06

Remembering the Fallen 08

Serried ranks of small crosses, drawn up neatly as if on drill parade, a poppy on each to remember the Fallen, many with hand-written messages from old comrades, friends and family

Remembering the Fallen 09

“They shall not grow old…”

For Armistice Day, one of Edinburgh’s smaller memorials, a little plaque in Edinburgh’s Waverley Stations, probably passed by and largely ignored by thousands of people every day as they go around their busy journeys, a tiny reminder of the past, of maimed and injured soldiers coming home from the War to End All Wars, resting here on their way, hopefully cadging a brew-up and a fag from some Red Cross volunteers. A little corner of history, if you care to look for the echoes of the past that still sound in the present.

Great War memorial, Waverley Station

As they at last comprehend all their sacrifice, all their pain,
All their sorrow, all their suffering, all the death,
Did not change or alter a thing, was not a lesson learned
Nor an experience not to be repeated..
Realizing their friend’s painful, brutal, ultimate sacrifice
Was only a necessary evil of Mankind’s political process
Which has never changed, and never will,
For each generation brings anew to the world
Its own self-styled madness of universal death, tragedy and suffering,
In wars to be fought by the young, bright-eyed children of the world
Unknowingly raised as sacrificial lambs of slaughter,
To be killed and gone forever, for nothing.
That is why, all Veterans cry.

In this hallowed place of the dead
The lonely graves of war’s youthful victims
Who died for a thought,
an idea, for a cause
Promulgated by selfish, insane men in power
These war graves and cemeteries are Harbingers
Of the eternal, mindless death cycle of war.
Young men killed by politicians’ words and mindless acts,
Their promise and existence forever ended too soon.
Now, forever sleep beneath the green muffled grass
Sharing the earth with the youth and victims of past wars,
Too numerous to count, to numbing to contemplate,
The dead, as powerless and impotent as the now living
To change or alter, or detour the inexorable course of madmen,
They patiently wait for the next generation to join them
.”

a fragment from Harbingers, a poem on the occassion of the Normandy landings anniversary by Curtis D. Bennett

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

Do not despair

For Johnny-head-in-air;

He sleeps as sound

As Johnny underground.

Fetch out no shroud

For Johnny-in-the-cloud;

And keep your tears

For him in after years.

Better by far

For Johnny-the-bright-star,

To keep your head,

And see his children fed.”

For Johnny, written by John Pudney on the back of an envelope as the bombs fell on London in 1941.

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The Remembrance Garden in Princes Street Gardens, right in the shadow of the Scott Monument; in the background were some anti-war protesters, although I should say they were quiet and not at all disrespectful; in fact I saw some talking to some old veterans. I don’t think they had anything against the soldiers or those paying respects to the fallen, just against the concept of war, and its hard to disagree with that.

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remembrance 1

Some of the markers in the Remembrance Garden are plain, many have names or regiments or ships or squadrons marked on them. This one touched me the most – it simply read “to dad”. I have no idea if the dad in question fell in one of the recent conflicts or half a century ago; I doubt it matters, the pain and loss and grief will still hurt as much.
remembrance 2

This one was marked to ‘Uncle Alex’ on HMS Hood; the Hood was a famous, huge Royal Navy battlecruiser. During a duel with the German pocket battleship Bismarck she was completely destroyed; its thought a lucky hit penetrated the weaker upper deck armour and set off a magazine. She exploded and sank almost instantly taking hundreds and hundreds of men with her to the bottom of the ocean; only three sailors from this enormous ship survived. Some say one of her turrets fired a last salvo as she sank. The comedic actor and former Doctor Who Jon Pertwee also served on the Hood and had transferred off her just shortly before the battle to train as a chief petty officer, or he may never have lived to become a famous entertainer.
remembrance - for all in Afghanistan

Not just historical battles remembered here but also the here and now as someone marks a cross for the men and women serving in Afghanistan right now.

The day the guns fell silent

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the day the gun fell silent; the cessation of the suffering and carnage of the War to End All Wars. Why then can we still hear those guns, every single night on our television news? Decades after politicians whipped up popular sentiment for war to such a pitch that men (actually many of them really only boys) not only volunteered but happily marched off to war and despite that awful example little has changed; still cold-blooded politicians will manipulate facts to stir up feelings and send out troops not to protect our nation from harm but for their own selfish agendas. And dress it all up in patriotism, while decrying those who oppose or question as unpatriotic.

Sending young folks off to war in a distant land is not patriotism. Taking the goodwill of someone willing to serve their nation (an increasing rarity in our ever more selfish age) and using it for your own ends is not patriotism. Betraying the enormous sacrifices made before many of us were born, lives given so we would never have to know what Wilfred Owen called the ‘pity of war’, is not patriotism. The spectres of the dead should rise as they did in J’Accuse and stare down the hypocrisy of leaders like Blair, ‘honouring’ the fallen at public ceremonies while committing more of their comrades to a similar fate. After the slaughter of tens of millions in the wars of the last century, from the mud and blood of Flanders to atomic conflagration of Hiroshima, from the cold waters of the Atlantic to the killing fields of Cambodia, how can any leader worthy of that title be so easily persuaded to war?

Yes, there will always be times when we are called to arms; if someone attacks you, you have to defend yourself, we learned the hard way that isolation or appeasement are not an option. But always, always it must be the choice of last resort, not a tool for personal agendas, political ideas or corporate and economic opportunities. No, that’s not patriotism; in fact it is the opposite, it is the betrayal of the nation and its people, the corruption of past sacrifices. Thousands of years of civilisation and we still have leaders willing to bang the drum for the march to war, leaders who will never take the risks of battle or suffer those hardships themselves; it’s 2006 – learn another way.

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

But out along the shattered field
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.

Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life’s vanished toys,
I’ve noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

Grantland Rice