In honour of the upcoming Remembrance Day I’d like to share a very special memory. It’s about honouring the dead.
But first, we all know that Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day) is to pay tribute to members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Its celebration began with the end of World War I and the ‘Treaty of Versailles.’ The treaty was signed on June 28, 1919 but the end of the hostilities went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month ergo Nov 11, 11am 1918.
We are all familiar with the playing of the ‘Last Post.’ This is played as a final farewell, symbolising that the duty of the dead solider is over and he may rest in peace. It is followed by ‘The Rouse’ which is often mistakenly called the ‘Reveille’ except in the case of the dawn service where the ‘Reveille’ is used. I found some references for this quite confusing so, for the sake of this article, I hope I have interpreted them correctly.
Since Roman times the horn or bugle has been sounded to command soldiers on the battlefield.
The ‘Reveille’ (awake, vigilant) was a bright, cheerful call to waken soldiers from their slumber; ready for duty. The ‘Rouse’ was also used to call soldiers to their duty but being a shorter call, is more often used at ceremonies, the exception being the dawn service as mentioned above. The call symbolises an awakening into a better world for the dead and rouses the living back to duty.
As with most traditions, some roots lie in ancient and/or medieval history. The first service is held at dawn at a cenotaph which is a Greek word meaning ‘empty tomb.’ It is a monument erected to honour a person or group whose remains are elsewhere. The idea of playing ‘The Last Post’ – a moment of silence to reflect – and the ‘Reveille’ at dawn services is to recreate, in a short space of time, the tradition of a night’s vigil. Medieval followers will be no strangers to this concept, the ‘vigil’ being a well-known part of a squire’s ritual into becoming a belted knight. The squire will spend the hours preceding his ceremony, kneeling the long night in prayer and reflection.
In the case of the fallen, the vigil was not only to ensure that the subjects were indeed dead (and not just unconscious or in a coma) but to guard against them being mutilated, despoiled by the enemy or dragged off by scavengers.
Today, the ‘Ode of Remembrance’ is recited which is taken from Laurence Binyon’s poem, ‘For the Fallen.’
An Ode is a type of lyrical stanza and best known from this one are the third and fourth stanzas –
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
The second line of the fourth stanza, ‘Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,’ draws upon the description of Cleopatra in Enobabus’ ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ where it is stated ‘Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale.’
My own experience to honour the dead had nothing to do with the modern day services but is the suffering and sorrow from any war different?
I was in France at the re-enactment of ‘Azincourt,’ the famous battle between Henry V and his band and the French force under the leadership of the Marshal de France, Charles d’Albret in 1415. The arrogance of the noblesse ignored the pleas and advice of Charles d’Albret and Jean II Le Maingre (Boucicaut) and charged in with devastating consequences.
The Battle of Azincourt
Sitting around a campfire and talking with the re-enactors, I was suddenly given a lamp and a cloak was draped around my shoulders. ‘It might be a little cool,’ I was told.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked, noting that all members around the fire had now moved into some sort of preparation.
‘You have been invited to attend a private ceremony,’ was the answer. In awe I watched as others donned cloaks and lit lanterns. Even though it was summer, a sneaky night breeze nipped at my ankles. It was not long before midnight and we had a short stroll ahead of us.
Silently the group detached itself from the main field of campers and we made our way onto the road. I shall never forget the glow of the medieval lanterns, the rustle of cloaks and the whispered talk. Every now and again the scout’s voice would ring out as he diligently gave warning, ‘voiture!’ (car) and we moved off the bitumen, out of the way of the startled night travellers.
We eventually reached a monument which I am sure they said marked a burial place of the lesser soldiers. It was dark and eerie and yet at the same time it was peaceful and serene. One by one, several of the members stood forth and dedicated a prayer to the fallen soldiers of Azincourt whose memories will never be forgotten by this tiny town. A moment of silence and I found my mind went blank! What do you say to the ghostly memories of knights who died almost 600 year ago? I am sorry? Standing there, in the dark, past midnight, surrounded by farmer’s fields, the feeling was palpable.
To have been allowed to share in this experience, this very private moment of mourning by a treasured few was one I will never, ever forget. Especially the ‘voiture!’ for it was the only thing for that one hour which reminded me I was alive in the 21st century.
In memory of them all
Lest We Forget.
By Cathy T