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.

This year has been 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.

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]

 

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.