Thursday, November 13, 2008

Extraordinary...

...silence, profound, tangible, greeted all who, like me, joined the swelling crowd in Whitehall on Tuesday as 11 o'clock approached. People were pouring out of offices and leaving bus-queues. No one spoke. An unrepeatable event was about to unfold. The last 3 survivors of those who were on active service in WWI - each of them over one hundred years old - were to lay poppy wreaths at the Cenotaph on the 90th anniversary of the Armistice signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Like, I suspect, a lot of the other people present, I was really there by chance - a meeting at a bank at Picadilly, a walk down towards St James' Park for the Tube, and then the realisation that something was happening. One might just stop by for five minutes or so, and then slip away. ...

Huge TV screens enabled us to see the band and dignitaries gathering, servicemen in uniform, a choir.Then a clergyman's voice welcomed us, and voices sang "For those in peril..." Then a great spontaneous wave of applause as three frail elderly gentlemen, wearing medals, and with mufflers against the cold, bearing poppy wreaths on their laps, were brought foward in their wheelchairs by young people with great gentleness and care. The young people - in uniform, representing each of the three Services - were each in turn handed a wreath from elderly hands, laid it at the Cenotaph, stepped back, stood for a moment, and saluted. Then the chimes of Big Ben, and the silence. Winds rustled in the plane trees and a couple of golden-brown leaves drifted down. No one coughed, whispered, or even seemed to move. Lots wept. I wept. The Last Post. Reveille. "They shall grow not old...at the going down of the sun, and in the morning..." The Our Father. Then God Save the Queen, and it was over. The crowd, by now huge, remained silent as it dispersed.

I don't think that I or anyone else present will ever forget it.

2 comments:

mary ann said...

Such a picture you give your reader. . .I, too, would have been speechless at the feel of the moment. I wish it were posted on you tube. I'm sure the day and the ceremony mean a lot to the WWI guys in a special way, as they remember fellow soldiers lost at their sides, men who died so young that they are now remembered on this earth by only a scant few. . .

Tony Abbot's new view from the sky said...

I was very moved this week seeing a young lad coming home on the train on leave from basic training. He informed somebody close by that he was due to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. He looked so young to be at the mercy of Taliban or Al Qeada. Have mercy on us Lord/