My first memories of Remembrance Sunday are of standing around the war memorial in the suburb where I grew up on a cold, frosty morning. My breath rose in steamy puffs as we stood, shivering, waiting for the traffic to stop so that we could cross the roundabout and to the centre of the traffic island where the cenotaph was situated. The road we were waiting near was always very busy and full of traffic and as a small child there was a sense of excitement caused by being able to walk somewhere that was usually forbidden.
It seems to me that one year at the cenotaph blurs seamlessly into another, one frosty November morning feeling much like any other, year on year. And I remember my mother and grandmother, who always insisted that we went, standing there with tears in their eyes as they followed the 15 minute service. I never understood why they cried – my grandfathers both fought in WWII, but both survived the war and died in 1975 and 1981 respectively – but cry they did. It was something of a childhood ritual – go and wait outside on a bitterly cold November morning, wait until the police stopped the traffic so we could walk on otherwise forbidden tarmac, cross to the traffic island, and stand, listening to my mother and grandmother crying for a few minutes, before going to plant our poppy in the earth around the memorial before leaving and going home.
Nowadays Remembrance Sunday feels different. It is warmer, for one thing – it is usually wet and mild rather than frosty. And I now know the significance of the poppies, of the act of remembrance itself, of the politics and of the complete tragedy and horror of war and of the trauma experienced by everyone with a connection to warfare.
For the first time in years, due to illness, I am not able to go a memorial service. I’m not well enough to stand outside, not well enough to travel. But I do remember. But, I find it hard to think only of the soldiers who died – I find myself thinking of the innocent civilians who got in the way of crossfire. I find myself thinking of the children who were born to young mothers who never knew their fathers. I find myself thinking of all the people whose names are not recorded anywhere but who were traumatised for their entire lives by their experiences of war. And I find myself thinking of all those people who, even today, this very morning, are waking up in war zones and who are wondering if they will see the day through.
We will remember them.