On Remembrance Sunday we had the privilege of joining 9,998 other people to take part in the People’s Procession in London to mark the centenary of the Armistice.
We assembled on The Mall around 9.30 am and had a chilly 3½ hours wait before the procession started. We were amongst young and old and everyone in between, all there for the same reason, to remember those who have given their lives for their country. Many were proudly wearing their own medals or those of a member of their family, many brought wreaths of poppies or homemade wreaths of colourful flowers, some with personal photos, made by children, adults, schools and all kinds of groups to place on the Cenotaph. It was very moving to be there for the 2 minutes silence, marked by the firing of guns in St James’s Park – which was extremely loud being so close – but nothing compared to those on the Western Front who heard them continuously.
The procession slowly moved off around 1.00 pm, we followed a Scottish military pipe band to keep us in step and were cheered and applauded by the thousands of onlookers still there from the commemorations during the morning. We walked along The Mall, Trafalgar Square and into Whitehall, past the Cenotaph and continued past the Houses of Parliament into St James’s Park where the procession ended. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to pay our respects and “remember them”. It was encouraging to see very many children amongst the crowds and the events that took place to mark centenary, highlighting the Great War, should enable future generations to explore the history and continue the commemorations.
On the previous day we had visited ‘Shrouds of the Somme’ at Queen Elizabeth Park. This was a physical representation of every one of the 72,396 British and Commonwealth servicemen killed at the Battle of The Somme who have no known grave, and whose names are engraved on the Thiepval Memorial. Artist Rob Heard has spent 4 years hand sewing shrouds around small figures which were laid out for 10 days to mark the centenary of the Armistice, having originally laid out 19,240 in Exeter on the hundredth anniversary of the first day of the Battle in 1916, the single day on which all 19,240 were killed.
The scale of this tribute was truly astounding and very emotional and even more astounding was the fact that this represented less than a tenth of the nearly one million British and commonwealth servicemen who lost their lives in the First World War.
We were privileged to meet Rob the artist, shake his hand and thank him for such a profound experience.
We felt we were amongst a great number of people in the Procession, 10,000 of us, paying our tributes in London, but considering the vast numbers of those killed and commemorated during the weekend, this was just a drop in the ocean.
John and Jean Marlow