Remembrance day

How we’re marking Remembrance Day in the Falklands

Last Saturday was pure sunbathing weather. I mention this because a) I’m writing from the Falkland Islands, where such occurrences are not exactly regular, and b) I spent the whole beautiful day, with two or three dozen other volunteers, drilling through rock to stake out a couple of hundred 6ft metal figures. I even had to wear a hat. This wasn’t the first time I’d attempted such a challenge. I lent a hand twice last year – first when we put up 100 Tommy silhouettes commemorating the centenary of the Royal British Legion. In the main these were set out on the sloping banks around the Stanley Cemetery and its

Britain is finally remembering its forgotten soldiers of empire

Each year, flowers of remembrance are left on the tomb of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey. The memorial marks the resting place of a nameless British soldier who fell on the battlefields of Europe during the First World War. But this hero is far from alone in his identity being lost to history. More than a century on from the end of the Great War, the contribution of half-a-million Punjabis who fought has been all but forgotten. The Punjab, or ‘land of the five rivers’ – a region now divided between what is post-partition India and Pakistan – remarkably provided more soldiers (Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus) towards the allied

There’s nothing irrational about patriotism

In the run-up to Remembrance Day, my local branch of the Quakers has been displaying a sign on the front door. It reads, with ever-so-slightly combative bold type: ‘Remembering all who have lost their lives in war’. They’re willing to mourn, as long as they don’t have to be patriotic about it. Temperamentally, I’m with the Quakers on this one: I struggle to get emotional at national symbols like the royal wedding or the sight of the Union Flag. But I know people who are moved by these things, and I’m not sure this is because they’re less enlightened than me and the Quakers. It seems more likely that we’re

My best Duke of Edinburgh salute for my oncologist

In the waiting room I thought about the Duke of Edinburgh. In particular, I pictured him saluting the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. In 1915 Colonel Maud’huy told his assembled French soldiery: ‘Many men salute correctly, very rare are those who salute beautifully… One could say that the salute is the hallmark of education.’ Maud’hay was an aristocrat-dandy. He would say that. Yet a simple practised movement can be powerfully expressive and every year the Duke of Edinburgh’s respectful, comradely martial salute was a thing of beauty. I looked forward to it. And every year, as he stepped backwards and saluted Lutyens’s sublime pylon, the execution was so reliably superior to

Poppy-wearing politicians must do more to help war heroes

It will be a sight for sore eyes on Sunday when leaders of the two main parties lay their wreaths at the cenotaph. Prime Minister Boris Johnson leads a government that last month failed to include legislation in the Queen’s Speech to protect military veterans from prosecution; Jeremy Corbyn’s close and long associations with the IRA are well-documented. Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has been out and about this week with his poppy, no doubt hoping the nation has forgotten what he said in 2003 at an event to mark the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. ‘It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle,’

We will remember him

The story is part of family lore. How, during the Battle of Mons, on 23 August 1914, two long columns of men from the Royal Field Artillery passed each other. One column was withdrawing from the frontline, the other heading into what was the first action between the British Expeditionary Force and the German army in the first world war. A shout went up: ‘Is Mulholland there?’ A reply in the affirmative from somewhere along the lines; a swift exchange of greetings between two brothers, Danny and Patrick; a mutual exhortation to ‘look out for yourself’ — and then they moved on. In opposite directions. It was the last time

Armistice, war and remembrance, seen through the pages of The Spectator

The verse before Laurence Binyon’s ‘They shall not grow old…We will remember them’, is this: They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe. It’s reflected in an article that appeared in a 1917 Spectator under the headline ‘The Splendour of Youth’. We may not say that the development of the noblest qualities in the flower of the nation is a justification of war, but none can deny that it is a sustaining consolation. The war has shown of what British youth is

Poppy appeal

As Remembrance Sunday draws closer and we pin poppies to our coats, we can also see them adorning the jackets of books. This powerful symbol of remembrance features on the covers of many books about the First World War, which tend to be put on display at this time of year. The inspiration behind the remembrance poppy is John McCrae’s 1915 poem, which begins ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row’. The poppies are linked to the crosses of the graves, as though each poppy marks the place of a fallen soldier. They seem flimsy and delicate, ‘blow’ing in the wind, but in the

What the rise of the Poppy refusenik tells us about Britain | 1 November 2018

Is there anyone smugger than the poppy refusenik? I don’t mean people who don’t wear poppies. That’s absolutely fine. Knock yourselves out. I mean people who don’t wear a poppy and who tell everyone they don’t wear a poppy. At every opportunity. ‘It’s poppy-fascism time of year again but I won’t be falling for it because I actually have a brain, unlike you idiots’, they don’t quite say but definitely mean. Poppy refuseniks have replaced poppy fascists (Jon Snow’s uncouth phrase) as the most irritating people of the Remembrance Day season. Sure, the poppy police who take to internet discussion boards the second they spy a newsreader or celeb sans

Low life | 16 November 2017

At ten to eleven we filed outside the church and assembled in the graveyard around a small cenotaph commemorating the dead of two wars with a dozen unmistakably local names. As we shuffled out, we hoped that the rain would hold off — no offence of course to any of the names on the cenotaph who copped it at Passchendaele. We were about 30 souls, combined age about 2,500. At 60, I was the second youngest by a decade or so, and I was attached by the hand to grandson Oscar, aged seven. The rain couldn’t decide whether or not to hold off. Oscar and I sheltered from the horizontal

Today should be a day of truce in the Brexit war

‘Take up our quarrel with the foe’, intones John McCrae’s famous In Flanders Fields. ‘To you from failing hands we throw, the torch’. For the millions of us marking Remembrance Sunday today, that quarrel is a solemn reminder of past sacrifice. It refers, somewhat euphemistically, to one of the bloodiest, most tragic conflicts in history. For some activists in and around the European Union, however, a more contemporary quarrel comes to mind. Obsessed with what they perceive as the dark foreboding forces of Brexit, they can’t help raising aloft the torch of EU supranationalism. The most egregious example being a piece in The Independent with the outrageous clickbait headline ‘If you

Long life | 17 November 2016

I started watching The Crown, the £100-million television series on the early years of the Queen’s reign, on Netflix but turned it off during the second episode because I couldn’t bear the endless coughing by her father, George VI, as he died of lung cancer. The coughing, performed with eager realism by the actor Jared Harris, who played the king, was made harder to bear by the fact that he kept on smoking at the same time. The link between cancer and smoking may not then have been established, but it is well known now; and exposure to both at the same time is not for the squeamish. For me,

Will Jeremy Corbyn benefit from a vicious press?

In last week’s Spectator,  Rod Liddle reported that his Tory-supporting wife is beginning to feel sorry for Jeremy Corbyn. ‘You lot want to watch it. I’m beginning to feel sorry for the bloke. The sympathy votes will be stacking up,’ Mrs Liddle informed her husband. At first, you might wonder what there is to feel sympathetic about. In his short tenure as leader so far, Corbyn has used his ‘huge mandate’ to put a stamp on Labour — allowing it to descend into public infighting over muddled policy positions, as well as riling his own MPs with an assortment of controversial appointments. But after this weekend’s ‘row’ about whether Corbyn bowed low

Melanie McDonagh

Remembrance Sunday is marvellous; for God-free war commemoration, go to France

The most remarkable thing about the ceremony at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday is that it just gets more popular. A ceremony that a generation ago might have been confidently predicted to appeal to a smaller and smaller bit of the population has somehow attracted the kind of benign publicity you get for the Children in Need awards. And the enormous crowds at the Tower to see the moatfull of ceramic poppies – one for each British life lost – has taken everyone by surprise. It’s got a good deal to do with the centenary of the First World War, of course, but that itself suggests that in a fractured

Why don’t we replace Remembrance Day with a national Day of the Dead?

This time of year features my two least favourite festivals, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, but the build up to Remembrance Day gives it a run for its money. I don’t mind Halloween being commercial, pagan, fake, foreign and likely to increase diabetes levels, so long as it’s for children; I just don’t know when October 31 turned into International Day of the Idiot. But now Remembrance Day is marred by the silly pressure for people like Jeremy Corbyn to wear poppies. Peter Hitchens is totally correct on this one, when he writes: ‘If you don’t want to wear one, don’t. If you want to wear a White Poppy, then you

David Cameron finds himself in hot water over poppy photoshop

After the actress Sienna Miller became subject to vitriol over the weekend for failing to wear a remembrance poppy during an appearance on the Graham Norton Show, politicians and celebrities alike are now doing their best to show off their poppies at any opportunity. Today 10 Downing Street even changed their Facebook profile photo to one of David Cameron sporting a poppy. However, Cameron’s remembrance efforts have since been questioned as Number 10 have been accused of photoshopping a poppy onto an old photo: The original photo from July had no poppy: His team have since managed to find a photo of Cameron wearing a real Remembrance Sunday poppy: With Cameron now accused of being a

We know that war is hell. But it doesn’t ever make us stop doing it

There’s a plausible theory — recently rehearsed in the BBC’s excellent two-part documentary The Lion’s Last Roar? — that our war in Afghanistan was largely the creation of the Army, which sorely needed a renewed sense of military purpose after the debacle in Iraq. As a taxpayer, this appals me. As the parent of a boy approaching conscription age it horrifies me. But as an Englishman, it doesn’t half make me proud that we’ll still do anything — up to and including embroiling ourselves in a futile conflict — rather than admit we’re finished as a fighting nation. Though we joke about having beaten Germany twice at their national sport

First XI of the Fallen

Who was the greatest sporting star who fought in the first world war? It is a difficult argument to settle at a century’s distance, with nobody still alive who saw them play and only fleeting glimpses from the very first steps of the newsreel era. The names are less familiar now, but contemporary accounts of their exploits and the sporting record books prove that they belong in the first rank of British sporting history. British Future has selected an inevitably subjective ‘1st XI’ of the fallen, to help to bring the names of these sporting greats back into our public consciousness. In our new essay How should sport remember, published