Today is the first time Armistice Day has been remembered without any World War I veterans attending the ceremony at the Cenotaph. The last two British veterans of the war, Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, died earlier this year.
As a child I remember watching the Remembrance Parade on television, and enjoying the march past of the former soldiers from both World Wars; the lack of WWI veterans this year is a stark reminder of how both of these momentous events are slipping away from living memory. Even the numbers of World War II combatants is increasingly tiny and physically frail.
For anyone growing up in England over the last thirty years, both wars will loom large in their cultural memory. Many people study the war poets at school: Wilfrid Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and others. There were also the direct personal links with those who’d lived through them and experienced loss. My grandmother lost four male relatives, including her father in World War I. My great-grandfather got a medal for shooting down the first Zeppelin over London (even though he was stuck on a train at the time). One of my grandfathers served in India, whilst the other repaired tanks in Egypt: my great uncle came in on the beaches at D-Day. I have a photograph of a family wedding from during the war; it was a large family and every single male was in military uniform. It’s difficult from our modern perspective, when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seem impossibly remote to imagine the extent to which these wars permeated all aspects of life and how they impacted on life and society after the war; my great grandmother struggled to bring up two children single-handed in London in the 1920s. Even though all these things are slipping away from immediate personal experience and memory, its worth pausing for a moment or two to remember them
Family Roll of Honour
Private James Patrick McManus DCM, 2nd Bn, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, 6th May 1915
Private Patrick Canavan, 1st Bn, Royal Irish Fusiliers, 10th May 1915
Private Albert Hollowell, 24th Bn, London Regiment, 28th October 1915
Sapper William Hollowell, Inland Water Transport, Royal Engineers, 24th January 1919