GRAHAM TURNER: Remembrance without the crowds

RAF memorial in Abbey Gardens ANL-141211-143049001
RAF memorial in Abbey Gardens ANL-141211-143049001
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The ceremony and formalities had long finished when I visited the War Memorial on Angel Hill, in Bury, on Tuesday – Armistice Day.

A couple of hours earlier I had been sitting with my colleagues at our desks for two minutes of quiet reflection, but at the memorial I stood alone, the red of the poppy wreaths glowing brightly in the November sunshine.

I only stopped for a few moments, but without the ranks of dignitaries and veterans, the standards and the crowds, I felt able to say my own personal thank you.

I remember attending my first Remembrance Day parade as a young Air Cadet. I was a little reluctant – I had joined the cadets to go flying, shooting and for adventures, not parades and the spit and polish that accompanied them. I don’t think I really appreciated the importance of the event, or of the veterans who marched with us. By that time, both my grandfathers – who had served in World War One – were dead and I’d had no opportunity to talk to them about their experiences, but there were dozens of men and women veterans of both world wars who were in the parades and I suppose I sort of took them for granted. It was many years later and I was an adult before I really ‘got’ remembrance. I was at a local Remembrance Sunday parade with one of my daughters who was attending with the Brownies and I suddenly realised that there were no World War One veterans present, old age had caught up with them.

There was a now a disconnect between the generation that sacrificed so much and those of us alive now, a gap, all we had was their testimony and recorded memories.

But on Tuesday, as I strolled from Angel Hill into the Abbey Gardens’ Rose Garden, I was also reminded that sacrifices are still being made today.

Here, in the lee of the cathedral, the memorials seem more personal and particularly poignant is the corner occupied by the plaque commemorating the contribution of the RAF – poppy crosses planted here record the names of personnel lost in World War Two, but also during our most recent conflicts – Iraq and Afghanistan. Men who would still be young now had their lives not been cut short.