Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Armistice Day - Remembering those who Fell & those who Still Serve

By Amy Bird

Last Tuesday was characterised by black and red - the poppy that has come to mark Armistice Day. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marked the end of hostilities in the First World War. Like everyone else in my office I observed two minutes of silence and stillness, to remember the fallen then and since.

Everyone else, I should say, apart from the seven-month-old almost-baby in my belly. 11am is usually the time it wakes up for a bit of a kick and a stretch. It didn't see why that day should be any different. In fact, it was a bit of a bonus that I was still, not hampering it by walking around.

So that make me think about my family-to-be, and the father of my little not-quite-baby, my Sailor. I wondered if he, in turn, was thinking about us.

When we next spoke, I told him I'd been thinking of him. This didn't please him. 'Don't think of me!' he admonished me, shocked. I am alive, I imagine he was thinking. Don't count me with them. And I found such an extreme reaction odd. For me, the poppies and the 2 minute silence to remember the fallen Armed Forces always make me think of my Sailor. In part, it's a special, eery association that I cannot dispel.  In other parts, it's a pride in what he does. Plus what is at the back of my mind usually comes to the forefront: that he does a dangerous job. Logical then, to think of your sailor husband.

But for them, maybe it is not like that. They are just at work, doing their jobs, like you and I. They are so categorically not the fallen - they have tasks and a to-do list and mealtimes. Although they must have made a conscious decision that they will fight to the end if they have to (I will not put it more bluntly; I find I cannot), should they allow that 'end' to spook them constantly, to reflect on it too much, they would not be able to operate effectively.

As well as the First World War, the Falklands taught us in the UK that the Navy can be a dangerous occupation. It is,  unfortunately, not all make believe Thursday Wars and hands to bathe or crossing the line ceremonies, or whatever else they get up to at sea. But in your own relationship, it doesn't always strike you that you are married to someone in the Armed Forces, and what that entails. I remember reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks for a creative writing assignment. It is credit to the intensity of Faulks' writing about the claustrophobia of the trenches and the mortality of the soldiers that I had a sudden crashing realisation of what being married to someone in the Armed Forces means. It was not a happy night. I was awoken in the small hours by a kind of existential hallucination that the shadowy crows of the book were swooping over my bed, and the next day I felt traumatised by the emotional experience.

I didn't try to put that feeling back in its box that day. I accepted that it was an anguish I needed to explore, tenderly yet thoroughly.  It is not an anguish we, or our sailors, can feel every day. If you do, something is wrong, and you need to talk to someone about it. On an everyday level, it is just your life, with your Sailor, who has a job they love. And you love them. So there we are. But on something like Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, that heightened sensitivity can return. With it, there is something broader that I wish everyone who marks the two minute silence - or more so, those who don't - felt aware of. And this is that the people who serve in the Navy or the wider Armed Forces today, the (let us hope always) unfallen are just people doing their jobs. We should cherish them, as we remember the fallen. That includes giving adequate support for those who are wounded in combat.

But also a wider respect for those who are serving. They are apolitical, distinct from from unpopular government or state policies. They should not be figures of hate. They are professionals, doing their job, to the highest standard they can. With the support of their friends, families, and - hopefully - of the general populace for them. As people. They are not heroes in waiting. Or political figures. Just humans, playing their role.

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