You know, for all it’s solemnity, in its way Remembrance Day, November 11th, is a good day because we not only come together to remember those who gave their lives in conflicts in the cause of our own and other people’s freedom, but to give personal thanks to those who survived and to those who are, on our behalf, still actively engaged in various theatres around the world.
I served in an active ‘conflict zone’ in Aden back in 1963 until 1965, as ground crew on a Hunter squadron, which meant I never actually saw ‘active service’ in the sense of being in imminent danger from direct enemy action, although terrorist activity was increasing towards the end of my tour out there, the most shocking of which was the death of a young girl when a grenade was thrown into a children’s Christmas party.
It’s thousands of miles from that married quarter in Aden to the war memorial at Highley church and yet it’s the memory of that young schoolgirl that comes back when I’m standing there, not the Hunter fighter pilot who, having survived operating in the most hazardous conditions imaginable ‘up country’, suffered an airframe malfunction and flew into the ground during an aerobatics display in front of thousands of onlookers.
Those two personal memories fall into line with the names that George Poyner reads out each year, that unnamed young girl and that fighter pilot tag onto the end of that column of local men and march off until they return next year.
Implicit in that memorial service is the acknowledgement of what that loss of life meant beyond any named individual, to those of us left behind.
That was brought home to me when, as one of the guard of honour at the funeral of that Hunter pilot, lined up with others alongside the graveside in what must be the loneliest burial ground in the world – aptly named ‘Silent Valley’ – I watched the wife of that pilot gently push their daughter forward to throw a flower onto her father’s coffin, and that’s the image I have when I see the adults at our Remembrance Day parade gently encouraging their charges to step forward on behalf of our football club, or brownies or scouts and place their wreath on the war memorial.
That’s an image that cuts across not just a few thousand miles of the most barren (and now war-torn) landscape on the planet but 57 years of an incredibly full life.
And back then, the last thing I imagined I’d be doing a lifetime later was carrying the responsibility for representing the interests of those fabulous wreath-laying kids and their parents who promoted such vivid memories of not just a very different landscape but a VERY different world.
We’re lucky living in Highley.
Dave Tremellen. 19 November 2021.
Silent Valley, Aden.