Armistice Day

I can still remember when the whole country seemed to come to a standstill, traffic stopping on the roads for the two minute silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Still remember too standing in my Wolf Cub shorts, legs freezing, at the parades which took place on the nearest Sunday. At least the cubs had thick jumpers unlike the Boy Scouts we would become, standing whatever the weather in their shorts and shirt sleeves.

Things were different then. All of the adults present remembered the war, at least the Second World War, and many had fought in in, and some – like my father – in what many still called The Great War (or The Kaiser’s War.) Though it is something of an exaggeration to say my father fought, though he was in the Royal Flying Corps (and later the RAF) in France and Germany, the greatest risks he faced were probably from his own side.

But people then knew the realities of war. A few years ago I photographed the annual Remembrance Day Parade in the town where I live, and it was still a solemn occasion, but nationally – and particularly in the media – it seems sadly to have become an occasion for militaristic and ‘patriotic’ posturing, with a hounding of anyone who dares to appear in public in the previous month without a red poppy on their coat. While of course we should remember the sacrifice of many, we should remember too that they were fighting for peace and for the war to end. That Great War was supposed to be the “war to end all wars“, a war against German militarism.

Thanks to a late-running train, I was coming up out of Charing Cross Station onto Trafalgar Square as the Underground announcer was informing people that it was about to be 11am and that some might wish to observe the two-minute silence. I walked up the side of the square, and there were several buses pulled in to the side of the road, and a few people obviously standing at attention, though where they could cars and lorries kept moving and the tourists mainly ambled on oblivious.

A small group of people stood in silence in front of the National Gallery, mainly Quakers, wearing white poppies. This was the start of their 45 minute silent remembrance peace vigil. The white poppies, now made by the Peace Pledge Union, are in memory of “all those killed in war, all those wounded in body or mind, the millions who have been made sick or homeless by war and the families and communities torn apart. We also remember those killed or imprisoned for refusing to fight and for resisting war. ”  In modern wars, over 90% of those killed are civilians.

The white poppies were introduced in 1933 by the Co-operative Women’s Guild  who felt that the message of the original Remembrance Days, of  “no more war“, was increasingly being lost as these became more militaristic celebrations. It seems to me to be even more important now – and more and more people seem to agree.

Silent Remembrance Peace Vigil

Later in the day I was outside the rather Orwellian-named ‘Ministry of Defence’ (opposite is the Old War Office, from an age where they called a spade a spade) with Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, who had organised a commemoration of the many refugees who had died fleeing  their war-torn countries, with many drowning as they made their way across the Mediterranean.

They had made large orange wreaths to resemble lifebelts, remembering the many who died on the crossing because of inadequate boats and life-saving equipment, though that they should feel no alternative but to make such a risky journey is a sad reflection of the failure of wealthier and less stressed countries such as our own to properly respond to the crisis.

Among those taking part in the procession and wreath-laying were a number of people who have managed to come to the country as refugees as well as some of those who have gone as volunteers to the Greek Islands and elsewhere to assist refugees on their horrendous journeys.

The wreaths were laid at the Cenotaph, and as well as several large wreaths there were 17 smaller ones – for the 17 people who have died on average on migration every day so far in 2017.

Remember Refugees on Armistice Day

I hadn’t come intending to photograph the annual Remembrance Day parade in central London by the London City District No 63 and the Houses of Parliament Lodge and visiting lodges, but they came along the road just as the previous event was finishing.

Orange Lodges Remembrance Day parade

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