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zaterdag 8 november 2008

Poppies Day

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

(Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen, 1914, published in Collected Poems, 1931).

The trees were all shades of copper, the sun sharp, the little angels near the Commonwealth War Cemetery casting long shadows. It was, in short, a glorious autumn day.

Led by a bagpipe player, the procession advanced - veterans and their relatives, schoolchildren and their parents.

Around the cenotaph, veterans hoisted and lowered their flags.

The reverend John Cowie led a short, impressive service. He recited the famous lines of Laurence Binyons poem and reminded his audience of the meaning of remembrance - that it is not only turned to the past, but also includes today's wars and their victims, in many parts of the world.

The pupils of the British School of Amsterdam sang "You'll never walk alone." The trumpet played The Last Post. Flags were raised, then lowered. The Lord's Prayer was said, "Abide By Me" was sung, and so were the British and Dutch national anthems. Wreaths were laid at the cenotaph - by, among others, representatives of the Royal Air Force and the Canadian Air Force. I made a mental note of this, thinking of "our" Cal, buried a few feet from where I stood. He was killed while serving both his country, Canada, and the Royal Air Force - and contributing to the liberation of my homeland. Cal was only 30 when his aircraft was shot down above the North Sea. He left a wife and a 4-months old daughter - yet he was far from being the youngest among those killed. Frank Huntley, another of our acquintances, was only 21. Frank wasn't married yet, he left no kids - he was his parent's only child. His mother carried on visiting his grave as long she was able to. Cal's wife is deceased now as well; we like to think she is reunited with the love of her life. Their daughter Anne, son-in-law Terry and granddaughter Jane still come and visit his grave.

So, while the ceremony went on, I stood thinking of all those young men and women who died for our freedom, for our peace. The thought of Roy also entered my mind. He survived Normandy, Nijmegen and even Arnhem - but never, until his death last summer, did he speak of what he saw.

Then, the children laid poppies at the feet of the graves. This, perhaps, was the most moving part of the ceremony - these youngsters suddenly seemed to communicate with those other young people under the grass... and in a certain, bizarre way this also meant that life was going on.

Flags were raised,the band played and slowly everyone went their way.

As to us, Jeanne and I, we left flowers at the graves of our beloved and thus had our own personal Remembrance Day - which for Jeanne acquired a most particular meaning. Within minutes after the ceremony ended, she heard that her eldest sister had died. Sadness, bewilderment, and yet relief, to know that her sister had found peace.

At a crossroads, we saw another procession, following a deceased beloved one to his or her grave. Life, including death, goes on.

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