Four late offerings for Remembrance Day: what should we remember really?

We have already posted some material relevant to 11 November, Remembrance Day, the 99th of that designation. That little collection links to the other posts. There’s also Simon Jenkins from The Guardian, who says ‘enough already’ of Remembrance Day.

Two other items came our way from events held on or about Remembrance Day this year; two more items are artefacts of great interest from almost a century ago.

Two from today

In Sydney, long-time peace activist, Hannah Middleton, spoke about what it is that we remember on this day. Are we just going through the motions, touching the easy bases only?

Very many Australians believe that it is essential and urgent that the power to declare war or to stay at peace be transferred from the Executive to Parliament. But none of all this will be mentioned in official Remembrance Day ceremonies …

On Armistice Day, the flags fly, the solemn music plays, the veterans, the widows and the grandchildren wear the medals and weep, the leaders speak of “fallen heroes”. There are headstones and wreaths and memorials and speeches. They promise “We will remember them”.

But we hear nothing about the wounded and maimed, the countless men stricken by shell shock, by post-traumatic stress disorder; the disfigured men who were shunned; the rampant alcoholism and morphine addiction; the terrified kids and battered wives, and the suicides.

Perhaps it is easier to remember the fallen with a poppy and a parade than to confront the reality. Perhaps it is politically more expedient. So we must ask on Remembrance Day: what should we remember?

Read more of Hannah Middleton’s remarks.

Way up in Darwin, there was a service on 12 November for Australian Defence Force Sunday. We were sent a copy of the pew sheet from the service, written by the Very Reverend Dr Keith Joseph, the Dean of Darwin and a former soldier. It is attached and is reproduced by permission. The Dean makes some salient points about the difference between questioning wars and supporting the men and women who serve in them.

pennyTwo from long ago

We have often referred in the Honest History enterprise to the King’s Penny or Dead Man’s Penny, sent (with a scroll) by a grateful King George V to bereaved families after World War I. We have one of these medallions in the Honest History office (referring to my great-uncle, Captain SJ Campbell of the 8th Light Horse) and there is a picture of it here.

DOedwNOU8AAmvmFHere also is an annotated scroll, courtesy of an Honest History Twitter follower, ‘Ernest Malley’, who found a picture of it on a website some years ago. The site contained scrolls and medals returned by families.

The annotations in this case were made by an unknown family member, an Owen Gorman. They provide a counterpoint to the rhetoric of official commemoration, expressed by the King on behalf of his ‘grateful people’. They also remind us that the ‘freedom’ referred to on the medallion should include the freedom to have views as awkward as those penned by Owen Gorman.

David Stephens

15 November 2017

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