|Remembrance - A Personal Retrospection by Eric Hall
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - November 2011
Very recently our nine year old granddaughter had me recalling what it was like to live through the Blitz. This led me to thinking that my mother and I were at about that age when the two World Wars were declared. For more than ninety years November has been the month for Remembrance and as my thoughts turned to 1939 I tried to recall what information my mother was able to provide of her experience of the earlier conflict.
We lived in a small village and my immediate enquiries centred around the field gun on the local recreation ground and the Cross on the Heath. Apart from replies of a factual nature any probing, such as asking if there was any connection between a name on the Cross and a boy in my class, received a non-communicative reply. One just didn't go that route, nor did one draw attention to the road sweeper or boot mender both wounded in the war.
My paternal grandfather was killed in 1917 and although his widow would talk of a brother killed in the Boer War her husband was never mentioned. Only many years later did my father mention him, and a great uncle who had survived the same action gave me cricket lessons but, even though we were by then in the midst of another war, no mention was ever made of his service.
The family suffered twice so far as grandfather was concerned. Although killed in 1917 he was not positively identified until he was reburied in 1924. There had also been a family upset over acceptance of his marriage certificate. In the case of the uncle there was an everyday reminder as he had a silver plate in his head requiring him to always wear a cap.
Later when we moved house we came across a small package containing cards sent by the troops to their village local kept by my other grandparents. Of great interest but of a totally passive nature in their content. Nothing was known of what had happened to the senders.
There was almost a blanket of silence covering recollections of such an event due, in all probability, to the private nature and the fear of causing upset. Nowadays, of course, we are faced by reports of conflicts every time we pick up a newspaper or switch on TV so it is little wonder that youngsters are more inquisitive than we were - we are part of the history they are being taught at school and films on TV.
Post 1945, if Remembrance Day, November 11th, fell on a schoolday we had a special assembly. The two minutes silence was observed at 11 a.m. followed with an address by the Head, a retired Brigadier. On the following Sunday, as now, Remembrance Day Services throughout the Borough were held and, as we lived in a barrack town, we heard the salutes and bands. Later my membership of a cadet force led to active participation.
As time passed the discipline was relaxed, often of necessity - no longer was it practicable for motor cyclists to stand up on their machines while passing the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Then the actual ceremonies were moved to the nearest Sunday to the 11th in many countries. A few years ago we were at a local event when we were advised that everything would be stopped for the two minute silence and this brought forth an enquiry from the same granddaughter for an explanation. This has obviously stayed in her mind and now forms part of her memory to complement the news bulletins and TV broadcasts.
My own experiences range from a flight across the Timor Sea when the pilot announced the two minutes silence at the appropriate time and a fairly boisterous group of 80 passengers adhered to it - we flew some 10 miles while observing it! The aircraft was Australian and to this day they keep to the actual date for commemoration. In addition they hold special services to recall other events such as ANZAC Day and, a recent innovation, Darwin Day to mark the air attack in February 1942. In 1996 I attended a meeting in Sydney on November 11th, it was a weekday and I was told that it was the custom nevertheless to mark the day at 11 a.m. The meeting ended just before the silence began and we made our way to the service in the city centre leaving the others to return to their desks to mark the silence at the appropriate time.
Perhaps the strangest reaction to Remembrance arose during a visit to Hahndorf a small town near Adelaide. Very prominently sited in the High Street is a German gun captured in France in 1917 by Australian forces. Many of the local families were of German stock and it was not unknown for the young men to join the forces while some of their family were interned for the duration. Even the name of the town was changed and not returned to the former name until well after the war.
There are bound to be mixed emotions between victors and the defeated. My first overseas trip was to Holland in 1952 where feelings still ran high. At around the same time a Norwegian friend told me I knew nothing about the war as we had not been invaded. In general things have now changed and comments heard are more likely to be along the lines that "Now we must trade with them".
Perhaps what I am saying is that time and faith are great healers but the extremes through which people have passed in my lifetime have scarred many and we have to hope that lessons have been learned from our experiences. Some have suffered little while others had experiences we hope will never be repeated. A very good friend of mine, along with millions of other Jews, had a horrific time and since settling in what he refers to as the "finest country in the world" now spends his time travelling the world speaking of the horrors that he, and his family, experienced. This is not done in a search for war criminals, but to ensure that the experience of war - his family's experience in particular, is never forgotten.