We rightly remember those who fell across Europe and beyond
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Last week a friendly lady stopped me in the middle of Inverness Airport.
“Excuse me” she said “can you tell me what are the meanings of the red flowers many here are wearing?”
Uh.. for a split second I paused...
You see, beneath the curly blond hair and blue eyes – it was her voice. Clearly she was German.
“Well” says he brightly, and crossing his fingers behind his back, “you see, they’re poppies, in memory of those who died in the First and Second World Wars. To remember everyone, British, French – and German – everyone who was killed.”
“Ach that is so nice,” she replied. “Thank you!”
To maintain cordial spirit I used two of the few German words I know.
And then we went our separate ways.
As I sat on the plane to London, I wondered what the Royal British Legion would have made of my explanation for the poppies during the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. I wondered if my white lie would be forgiven.
I remember my father telling me of the 11th of November in London, whence he had gone from Tain to work, in the 1930s.
At the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, every year – at the anniversary of the exact moment that the guns had fallen silent on the 11th of November 1918 – so too in the 1930s the whole of London would fall silent.
No matter what you were doing, no matter what day of the week the 11th of November fell on, it was always the same. Mid-journey, mid-employment, mid-conversation, everything stopped the instant the eleventh hour was struck. Absolute silence reigned for the next two minutes.
Hats were removed, heads were bowed, children were hushed. My father described it as hugely dignified and moving. Clearly it had made a deep impression on him. Which is probably not surprising, because this was less than 20 years after the greatest carnage that mankind had seen.
Uppermost too in my father’s mind would have been the fact that his own father had lost two brothers on the Western Front.
The death of the second, Arthur, was always said to have broken my father’s grandfather’s heart. He followed his two sons to the grave shortly afterwards.
So as I walk down Tain High Street holding a wreath of poppies every Remembrance Sunday, something that I have done for many years, my mind always turns to my own father. Although he fought in the Second World War, he survived. But nevertheless he died too young of lung cancer when I was only 32, and I mourn him yet.
They are curious, the twists and turns of fate in this short life.
A few days ago I was asked if I could stand in for my party leader at the Cenotaph in London.
Not of course on Remembrance Sunday itself, when the Queen, the Prime Minister, party leaders and many others will formally lay wreaths, but the day before, the day itself, Saturday the 11th of November.
The event is being organised by the Western Front Association, an organisation whose purpose is to “maintain interest in the period 1914 - 1918, to perpetuate the memory, courage and comradeship of those on all sides who served their countries in France and Flanders and in their own countries during the Great War”.
It was an honour to be by the Cenotaph – and once again my thoughts returned to my father and my grandfather’s two brothers.
And then I flew back to Inverness, because it was every bit as big an honour to take part in the ceremony the following day, on Remembrance Sunday in my home town of Tain.
The loss of life was equally as sad in Tain in the Highlands, as it was in the nation’s capital London.
And as the Western Front Association acknowledges, the same is true in Paris and rural France, and yes, in Germany too.
“The war to end all wars” – would that it really had been so.