November 12th 1950
Tombland in Norwich; the view is not much changed over 60 years later. The trees must have grown a bit, and the pub on the corner of St George’s (7 Tombland) was then called the Army and Navy Stores. It was renamed the Edith Cavell in 1981. Both the Army and Navy and Edith Cavell are appropriate names for this time of year with its memories of war. What is different from today’s scene however is the huge crowd of onlookers on the pavement, and the British Legion procession trailing off into the distance. The end of the last war was only five years away and the First World War was only just over 30 years distant, so there were personal memories of a lot of lost lives.
A contingent of 250 serving soldiers also took part in the parade; there was not only Britannia Barracks in the city but the Cavalry Barracks as well. There were also members of the WRAC present as women were not then integrated into army regiments. The procession followed a short Cathedral Service and the congregation and onlookers then proceeded to the War Memorial outside the City Hall. The open-air service there was preceded by the two-minute silence at 11 o’clock.
It was fine weather with a glimpse of sunshine, but the trees were quite bare. Nowadays the effects of climate change mean that the autumn leaves are often still on the trees. The falling leaves an evocative symbol of the dead. Some years the leaves are still quite green. I am not attributing a cause to climate change by the way –that is debatable – but the fact of climate change is undeniable. It would be strange indeed if the climate stayed the same because it has varied throughout history – a fact ignored by the more excitable experts.
A Remembrance Day Parade is never complete without music, a bugler at least to play the Last Post and Reveille. In 1950 they could call upon the 4th Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment to provide a band. I do not know what they played, but today there is a staple including Elgar’s Nimrod, Walford Davies’ Solemn Melody and Purcell’s When I am Laid in Earth; all great, serious tunes by British composers. There is also a lighter sequence of traditional airs from various corners of the United Kingdom.
Service men and women are still laying down their lives of course, but the numbers are tiny compared with those killed in the two World Wars. The number of service men lost in combat in Afghanistan over 13 years is dwarfed by the number killed in just one day in the early months of WW1, when HMS Bulwark was sunk.
It is remarkable how Remembrance Sunday is still an annual event even 70 years after the Second World War. Even 50 years ago it was a common talking point at my school that the relevance of the day had passed; the younger generation had never known World War, and the meaning of Remembrance Sunday was passing. We were wrong. Now the vast majority of the population have never known the horrors of war. This means that Remembrance Sunday has inevitably changed with the passing of the years, and most of us don’t actually remember anyone who was the victim of war. This is despite the fact that scarcely a year passes without some member of the Armed Forces losing their life through armed combat. But we can still feel the horrors of war, only luckily for us at second-hand. It is still one of the most solemn days of the year.
This year Remembrance Sunday falls on Armistice Day, meaning that the Observance of the Eleventh Hour will happen just once. In recent years the habit has grown up of the marking of both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday which I feel is excessive. In the years after the First World War when memories were fresh and raw only Armistice Day, and after the Second only Remembrance Sunday was observed.