The weekend of 10th and 11th November 2018 had been marked in our diaries for some time. Following our visit in 2017 to the Remembrance Day parade we vowed that we would return in 2018 to mark 100 years of the Armistice ending the First World War. The fact that the 11th fell on Remembrance Sunday was one of those calendar quirks that made for a fitting and emotional way to not just remember all those that fell in 1914 – 18 and conflicts since, but , at a very personal level, our own family members too.
Obviously with such a milestone there were a series of other events and commemorations being held over the weekend.
First on our list was the “Shrouds of the Somme” installation at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. An early Saturday start saw us arrive at the Olympic Park taking in the sights of the stadium and aquatics centre, not quite sure what to expect.
Over the years we have been to various memorials to fallen soldiers and the war dead but nothing has ever had an impact as “Shrouds of the Somme.” The sight of 73,000 small bodies in shrouds across a huge area was simply breathtaking. It is difficult to put into words the impact, the experience of this and indeed how it was displayed. It was simple but effective - massively so. The video below explains more and gives a brief glimpse of the power of this stunning installation.
In addition to the main display was a broad crescent of crosses each with a date marked on it representing a “calendar” of the First World War and with it a second number marking the number of soldiers killed on that date.
We have 5 relatives that didn’t make it home in 1918 and we took the opportunity to seek out the crosses that corresponded with the dates that they died. Very sobering and something that brought our various trips to their individual resting places abroad together like nothing has done previously. The slideshow below brings their final resting places into context with the others lost on the day they fell.
This was an emotional experience and as we left the Park we reflected quietly on what we had seen.
Next stop was the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth and the “Weeping Window” poppy installation we had last seen in Perth in 2016. Having caught up with “Wave” at the IWM North in Trafford it was great to make the match with its sister installation a few weeks later. As ever it was difficult to photo but its impact was just as great.
After a stopover at our hotel, Saturday evening saw us arrive at the Tower of London for “Beyond the Deepening Shadow” a display of 10,000 lanterns in the moat, lit every night by volunteers and marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
The short video below gives a great feel for this moving experience, made all the more sombre by some drizzle and, at times, heavy downpours. We were fortunate to have bought tickets that allowed access to the moat itself so got a grounds-eye view of the lanterns – stood in and amongst them. A great decision to buy them and something that made it even more special.
So an exhausting and emotional day but that was just the start.
Sunday saw us in a once in a lifetime position of taking part in the Nation’s Thank You march past the Cenotaph in Whitehall part of a 10,000 strong contingent drawn by a ballot process from across all parts of the UK.
Meeting up on The Mall on a cold clear November morning complete with our wreath commemorating our 5 fallen family members was a sobering experience. And, despite a 3 hour wait to start the march, emotions remained high. With many people staying on to watch the march after the formal ceremony had ended it was nothing if not bizarre to be marching down The Mall, under Admiralty Arch and down Whitehall following a pipe band to the Cenotaph watched by thousands of spectators. A volunteer took our wreath off us and laid it down at the Cenotaph – quite moving really and in a way completing the circle started years ago when we first visited Ypres and visited the graves.
The march finished in St James’ Park and we made our way back across Horse Guards Parade – now deserted in the mid afternoon sunshine with a hint of rain on the breeze. Quite poignant and a continuation of the emotional journey we had been on – packing a huge amount into 2 unique days.
We returned home with a renewed vigour to go back to the graves and continue our own personal journey remembering those who still lie in corners of foreign fields.
Does anyone manage to get through their lives without experiencing the sadness of losing someone they love? Loving and caring for people leads to great pain and sorrow when they leave. Without love there would be no sorrow, no loss, no hole in your life, no tears to cry but isn’t it worth it? The precious time you spend with that person be that 88 or 23 years, 2 weeks or even a matter of minutes, far outweighs the grief and the hurt you feel at their loss. There is comfort in remembering a snatched bag of chips, your first dance together and even the times you disagreed; the love in their eyes as they look at you and the warmth of their hugs and kisses.
Time almost stops when a loved one departs. It’s almost impossible to grasp that you have seen them for the last time when their home still smells of them, their slippers are at the side of their bed, their reading glasses still rest on the football programmes they were reading the day before..
The world is a constant loop of retelling, reliving, remembering they’ve gone. Kind words from friends and family, meeting people who knew them but not you, spending long periods of time talking to priests and funeral directors…
Platitudes to ease your pain, eyes avoiding having to express their feelings. Maybe a hug is all that’s needed. Maybe he did ‘have a good life’ he probably has ‘ gone to a better place’ and yes 88 years is a ‘good innings’ but still he is no longer here. The sadness at his loss is not eased. The sorrow at the gap he leaves remains.
“After you’d gone
I saved your favourite cushion
Setting it gently to one side,
and full of care
so as not to lose the shape of you
Your lasting impressions
as it were…”
Tony Walsh ‘Hollow’
from the book ‘Sex & Love & Rock & Roll’
Available to purchase from ‘Longfella’ himself just £10.00
Thank you for all your kind words, love and support.
Life and other