The act of remembrance has always struck me as something deeply personal. As much was we might do it collectively within our communities, gathering each year on Remembrance Sunday to remember those who lost their lives in conflict, we are nevertheless lost in our own thoughts.
Looking around the crowds gathered on Broad Street last Sunday, I was intrigued to think what was going through the minds of all those present at this and commemoration ceremonies across Orkney. Indeed, what was going through the minds of those unable to attend in person, particularly veterans of various conflicts over the years.
I am sure I wasn’t alone in finding myself standing on the Kirk Green thinking of family members, friends and colleagues who have passed away, albeit in different circumstances. This was not intended to be disrespectful, nor did it feel inappropriate, but rather it allowed a reflection on the value of a human life, and the extent perhaps to which we can be guilty of taking this for granted at times.
As uncomfortable as this realisation may be, it is as nothing compared to what many in the veterans community go through; a fact brought home to me during a conversation in the Kirkwall branch of the Royal British Legion over the weekend. One Legion member reminded me that many veterans feel reluctant or uneasy talking about their experiences, which is entirely understandable. It did make me wonder, though, what impact events around Remembrance Sunday might have on these individuals.
No doubt they, like others, draw heavily on the support provided by the Royal British Legion. I had the pleasure of spending Friday evening in the company of the Legion President and guests for the Remembrance Dinner. As ever, this provided just the right mix of good-natured banter, sombre reflection and steadfast comradeship.
That mood carried over into Sunday, when Broad Street was packed once again for a parade and ceremony that were as dignified as ever. In passing, let me also make mention of the new paving on the Kirk Green. This provides a far better space in front of the memorial for the ‘colour party’ and those laying wreaths, but also draws the eye towards the memorial and indeed the kirkyard beyond.
Once inside the Cathedral, the service saw us exploring once more the question of what is remembrance. Clearly, this cannot be limited to a day, a week or a fortnight a year. This goes to the heart of the message Poppyscotland are always at pains to point out. The work they do on behalf of members of the veterans community; from health to housing; training and advice, to financial and emotional support, is a year round endeavour.
A challenge was also laid down to politicians and those in authority. We bear a profound responsibility for the decisions we take, not just around engagement in conflict and the way we look after those we put in that position, but more generally in the efforts we make to avoid such conflict arising in the first place.
That said, it is unhelpful, I think, to characterise all politicians as behaving the same or being equally culpable for past mistakes or laying the ground for future conflicts. At a time when attacks on, and threats to, politicians are on the rise, taking care in the language that we use is more important than ever.
It is important too, however, that we all take time to think about what the act of remembrance is or should be. Such self-refection allows us to consider our own actions and how consistent these are with the hopes we express at a time of remembrance. For those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, that is surely the very least they deserve.