Remembrance Day – what does it mean?

Remembrance Day – what does it mean?

“Remembrance Day is a solemn time for me and full of memories; both sad and joyful,” says my 93 year old friend, Dick Sweetnam, who I have had the privilege to know since 1984. Serving in the Merchant Navy, his ship, SS Patrick, a Rosslare (Ireland) - Fishguard (Wales) passenger ferry, was bombed on 13 June by the German Luftwaffe. The ship sank within minutes and Dick lost a leg. “I don’t mope. I haven’t got a clue how I got out [to Milford Haven] and I sometimes wonder why I am still here. But God called me out for a purpose,” he told me.  And that purpose, from my own experience and that of thousands of others, was to serve young people through decades of service and commitment to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and Sea Scouts & Cadets.

Remembrance Day, always held on the second Sunday of November, is a day when Britain comes together to commemorate all those who sacrificed their lives or suffered during war to secure and protect our freedom.   

The simple, red, paper poppy was introduced as a symbol of remembrance in 1921 at the founding of The Royal British Legion. The tradition of the ‘Two Minute Silence’ at 11.00 commemorates Armistice Day 1918 and the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the guns fell silent signalling the end of the fighting in the First World War. The poppy appeal continues to raises vital funds for servicemen and women and their families as it did for those who needed support after World War I.

The National Service of Remembrance is a solemn occasion that takes place at the national war memorial in London’s Whitehall, (close to Westminster and Big Ben), known as The Cenotaph. The service is always attended by the Queen, government ministers, service men and women, faith communities and High Commissioners of Commonwealth countries. At the same time across the country, people attending church services unite in remembering and honouring the dead and war memorials - found in most towns, villages and cities in the country - will be decorated with poppy wreaths.

Over six million men served in World War I; 725,000 never returned. Of those who came back, 1.75 million had suffered some kind of disability and half of these were permanently disabled.  My grandfather and his three brothers went to Gallipoli and Mesopotamia and three fought at the Battle of the Somme. Remarkably, only one was wounded and all of them came home though they, like everyone else, witnessed terrible suffering.

Humanity has a tendency to lock itself into conflict at regular intervals and in different parts of the world. Natural resources, religion, ideology, race and hatred are most often the causes. Even today we are witnesses to numerous internal conflicts, international disputes, community strife and mass migration; we live in a world that is not at peace with itself.

President Xi Jinping said at a meeting the Chopsticks Club was invited to in London on 22 October during his State Visit that “peace is in the DNA of the Chinese people.” These are reassuring words both for those that fear China and those that marvel at her rise. Yesterday, China and Taiwan made history with a meeting of the two leaders, Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s Ma Ying-Jeou. Meeting to talk – even on neutral ground – is not always easy but is usually positive. 

Chopsticks Club, the largest China-UK professionals’ membership network, has created a platform since 1993 to enable Chinese and British people to meet, to talk, to understand, to share, to collaborate. Through deeper cross-cultural understanding comes goodwill and we have become a far-reaching network of families and friends. We have shared the joy of marriages and births as well as sadness at the loss of loved ones.

According to The British Legion, “the red poppy is a sign of remembrance but we also wear it for the future of the living.” These sentiments are shared by my dear friend, Dick, who told me last night, “I believe in the living and we should cherish the young people of the world.”

Author: H-J Colston

Date: 08 November 2015