The month of November is a time to remember. On November 11th there is a collective moment around much of the world to reflect on the sacrifice made by many soldiers, sailors and airmen and women.

Is remembering important?

Our collective memory shapes us. It has an impact on who we are and what we believe about ourselves and our nation. And if we no longer remember why we asked our soldiers to fight, we lose something important.

2017 was a year for remembering. One hundred years since Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. A little over seventy years since the end of World War II. If we don’t remember why those wars happened, we can lose our appreciation for the sacrifice that was made. As time moves on from these battles, it is easier to forget or let the memory fade.

George Orwell wrote: “Intellectual liberty … without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilization.” And he commented, in reference to World War II … ‘if this war is about anything at all, it is a war in favour of freedom of thought.” [taken from the excellent book Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks]

In our culture we use movies to grapple with the stories that move us. Movies can bring us to moments that we might otherwise never reach. I am looking forward to seeing Sir Peter Jackson’s movie on World War I. He took four years to pull together footage from that time, colourize it and create a movie with it.

Jackson said: ‘I wanted to reach through the fog of time and pull these men into the modern world, so they can regain their humanity once more – rather than be seen only as Charlie Chaplin-type figures in the vintage archive film.’

Time does create a fog. It is an easy thing to forget that every soldier has a story, a family, a history. It is hard to remember that they were just like us, with the same hopes and fears, especially when viewed from a distance of 100 years. And in taking time to honour their sacrifice, we express gratitude for what they built.

 

What do you remember when you stand for two minutes of silence today?

When I stand silent for two minutes, I will remember separation and loneliness, gut-wrenching fear and just having to get on with getting on. Deployments teach you a lot about self-sufficiency and when to turn off CNN. And I will feel connected to every woman who said good-bye to her soldier husband.

When the Last Post plays, I remember all those middle of the night phone-calls from Afghanistan because someone had been killed. All those young men and women who do what my sons do now, but are not going to grow old. Those are who I remember.

I was never a soldier. I never signed up for that life. But I was married to one – so I had a front row seat.

 

I learned a lot of lessons living next to a soldier.

Life could have given me other opportunities to learn them – but life led me to learn them that way. I saw in action the high demands of honour, loyalty and a duty done because a commitment had been made. And not done grudgingly – but wholeheartedly.

This is not uncommon for the soldier – nor should it be. We give them weapons, we expect them to fight for us, and we also rightly expect that they should reflect the very best of who we are as a nation.

There is pain and sacrifice in the remembering. The faces at a cenotaph on Remembrance Day will tell you that. But the remembering reminds us of what we owe.

 

And on that point, our collective memory should not grow dim.