Remembering Remembrance Sunday

By | 18:06 Leave a Comment

We've never been a family that had that much ritual in our lives. 

We never went to church on a Sunday, nor were we the types to swarm around the crucible when snooker came to show off there under the monolith of the outdoor television screen. But we always, without fail, attended the Remembrance Sunday display at the war memorial in the centre of town.

Remembrance Sunday in Sheffield 2014
When we were very little it was always a strange, exciting event to see our dad don a blazer for once instead of his usual oil speckled jumpers. As we headed downstairs into our grandparents’ part of the house Nannan and Granddad’s bedroom would reek of Chanel No 5 and hairspray harsh enough to infect our tongues. The poppies would be lined up on the hall table in a neat row and, carefully, Granddad and Mum would pin them to our posh coats.

We didn't really have ties to the great wars apart from the dim notion that Granddad’s father had died long after from oil-soaked lungs in the wake of a sinking submarine. But such images were distant and legendary, tinged with the doubt that joined any stories of domestic drama or marvel: like the rumour of elephants in Sheffield's old brick yards; like the legend that Granddad’s hair had not always been white. Instead, as children, it was the event of it all that sought to mark the date.

Every eleventh of the eleventh (or thereabouts) we would join the swollen crowd around the memorial in the freezing cold. We witnessed the lines of soldiers and the brass band march with grim discipline through fenced off roads, joined by the surreal jolly tinkling of a xylophone played by a line of sailors. But the show grew smaller every year.

Even the 'cannon' has been removed. As kids, It was the loudest sound that we had ever heard.

But the veterans with their stiff white gloves and giant flags remain.

In our family, we too - like the performers in this communion with the dead - grow fewer in number. And with each subtracted poppy from the table the expressions on the bronze martyrs' faces of the memorial become more imperceptible. Just as we no longer taste perfume and hairspray as we walk down to put on our coats, so too does the history dim away from our senses. But we still wait in the cold and press against the railings. We mime to half remembered hymns and wait through the echoing unintelligible audio that bounces off the buildings. We fall silent and we remember how that canon fired so loud to announce so many lives lost. How the pigeons scattered into the sky. 
And we feel like we have done something right.

This year - in the wake of the 100th anniversary  - the event is growing larger again. The horses are back, the marching and music have swelled, and the city hall square is packed to the brim with bustling people and children on shoulders. Two minutes' silence rings out and a man in front of us, built like an oak tree, removes his hat. Far away in the capital city, the Tower of London bleeds with 886,246 ceramic poppies.

The sun shines and Sheffield says thank you.
Newer Post Older Post Home