November: a month for remembering

Poppies in the Field of Remembrance in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral in Kent
Poppies in the Field of Remembrance in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral in Kent

Across the world, Christian communities remember All Saints and All Souls – the faithful dead.

In this country, many of us will at some point find ourselves saying the words, ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot’ – calling to mind Guy Fawkes and his, fortunately, failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and impose some absolute monarch on us.

And the whole nation comes together to remember those who died in world wars and other conflicts, using red poppies as an instantly recognisable and symbolic reminder.

Recently I was talking to some local police officers about having a permanent memorial to those officers who gave their lives in service to their country.

We agreed that it was important to have such an epitaph in a place that the public could easily visit – like war memorials.

One of the officers made the point that police and fire officers were not unlike members of the armed services in that they too were prepared to risk their own lives for the sake of others.

We remember the sacrifices members of the military have made in commemorations at various public memorials.

Such memorials provide a focus for all sorts of emotions that come upon us when we think about war and its consequences.

They enable the bereaved – whose grief may be recent or long-standing - to express and channel their sorrow and find some consolation. They allow the rest of us to show our gratitude for the sacrifices made by those who gave their tomorrow for our today.

Sometimes people object to Remembrance day commemorations on the grounds that they glorify violence.

But I think that misses the point.

There are different ways in which you could commemorate wars, one of which would be to glorify them through militaristic pomp and ceremony.

But in this country we turned away from that after the horrors of the First World War.

We did not choose to glorify military exploits at an Arc De Triomphe.

We chose instead to remember the dead at a Cenotaph.

Our mood is sombre, not excitable.

Insofar as there is pomp and ceremony it is our way of making our remembering dignified.

So, if we are grateful for the risks that the police take on a daily basis to keep us safe, perhaps there could be no better way of doing that than through a public memorial as a permanent reminder.