Like many Veterans I took a moment on Sunday to pause and reflect. Remembrance Sunday is an important milestone in our national calendar, this year it was made even more poignant by our inability to gather at our war memorials to pay our respects. Our nation is justly proud of our traditions and the annual gathering at the Cenotaph is, perhaps, our most inclusive.
Veterans gather, shoes shined, medals polished and banter honed-in readiness to settle scores with members of other regiments or services. The various pubs and hostelries around the City of Westminster gird their collective loins as Veterans muster to drink beer, renew comradeship and tell tales of times gone by and of deeds done. Sometimes old mates are barely recognisable as the years condemn. Waistlines expand almost as fast as the credibility of tales of daring do. That said. and perhaps as a tribute to the Drill Instructors art those same, “slightly impaired” Veterans, at a single command, will march in measured steps past the Cenotaph in ranks thinned by the years to respect those who did not return.
It should come as no surprise then that the necessary restrictions placed on this year’s ceremony had such an effect on the Veteran community. Predictably, this did not deter Veterans from their salute, a very few insisted on going to the Cenotaph to make some empty political statement, but I speak of the quiet and proud majority who stood in silence on their doorstep to honour the fallen.
Today, 11th November I will march (well, walk) alone to my local War Memorial and lay my wreath with all the others. I will hold the silence and remember. I lay the wreath in memory of my regiment, of personal friends lost and as a mark of respect for those who served and continue to serve this great nation. The honourable title of Veteran is earned by any man or woman who has served a single day. It comes with few privileges other than an enamel badge and a rail card, but it is invaluable.
We may now be past our best, but our oath of allegiance has no expiry date.
Cliff Allum MBE, FRGS