Going to Huish Episcopi churchyard, I took a picture of the gravestone of Private Arthur Edward Roussell and posted it online, along with words from Binyon’s Ode to the Fallen, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” Of course, we don’t, nor will we.
Edward Roussell died of war wounds and was buried in the churchyard of his home parish. Only recently a sign acknowledging the presence of his grave has appeared. Other churchyards have war graves, but no public acknowledgement of their presence. One vicar said their parochial church council had declined an approach from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to place one of their distinctive green signs at the gateway to their graveyard. The soldier of the Wiltshire regiment whose grave is marked by one of the distinctive white war grave headstones would have been baffled that a century after his death there were people in the parish who objected to a discreet metal sign saying that there was a war grave at this place.
In some cases, there is a deliberate amnesia, perhaps a recalling of the World Wars asks too many questions of people who prefer their world to be simple.
In some cases, the forgetfulness is a matter of circumstance. Eighteen young men from the parish of High Ham died in the First World War, mostly, their mortal remains lay in the fields of France or Flanders, or their name is recorded among the names of tens of thousands of others who have no know grave, at the Somme, at the Menin Gate, at Tyne Cot. Dying on the Western Front at least means one is brought to regular remembrance, not so for those who fell in conflicts further afield. One soldier from our village lies in the soil of Beersheba, presumably a casualty of the conflict with the Ottoman Empire, another’s name is recalled on a memorial wall at Karachi in Pakistan: who now remembers the conflicts, let alone the men?
When the centenary of the Armistice is observed on Sunday, 11th November this year, there will then come a forgetfulness. It seems in our nature to regard centenaries as important, but then to forget events until some other significant anniversary occurs. How many ceremonies will there be in 2019? How many special remembrances?
We will remember them? We don’t remember them, nor will we, which is more sad for us than them, as George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Alan Bennett’s The History Boys: It’s not “lest we forget”, it’s “lest we remember”. That’s what all this is about -the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes’ silence-. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.