We had a team away day today. We were away from the office and in the genteel surroundings of the Trent Bridge Inn. Wetherspoons pubs may be many things, but this one has the distinct advantage of at least being within short walking distance of my house. In any case, since Wetherspoons took it over a few years ago, I think it's fair to say that it's never looked so good.
Anyway. Amongst the things we did, we spent an hour or so either side of lunch walking along the Embankment in two teams devising (and then doing) a treasure hunt. My team was wandering around the riverside looking for interesting things we could use as clues. There's a war memorial here, and we paused to see what we could find. I was transfixed and moved by a little wooden cross with a poppy on it that had clearly been fixed to the gates of the memorial on Remembrance Sunday. It was only a humble little thing, but in faded writing on the wood of the cross was an inscription commemorating a 19 year old Able Seaman called Sidney who had lost his life at Omaha beach on D-Day. The cross had been left by his sister, and I was touched at a devotion from an elderly lady who was remembering a brother who had died some seventy years ago. I find things like this profoundly and quietly moving.
My contemplation was interrupted, however, by one of the members of my team coming up in front of me on the other side of the gates holding a poppy wreath.
"I found this on the floor over there"
"That's a memorial wreath. Please put it back."
"It was over there. Someone had just chucked it on the floor."
"It wasn't chucked on the floor, it was laid there during Remembrance Sunday last November. Please put it back."
At this point, this 25 year old stropped off and hurled the wreath back in the general direction of where she had found it, muttering about how there was no need for me to make such a big deal about it and basically behaving like a stroppy teenager. I could have chastised her to show some respect, but I simply explained what it was and asked her to put it back. Fair to say, I wasn't terribly impressed by her reaction.
I'm fifteen years older than this girl, but it seems to be a long fifteen years. The Second World War ended only 29 years before I was born, but that means it was over for the best part of half a century by the time she was born, and was that much more faded from living memory. I grew up around people who had experienced at least one World War first hand; people in my own family. This girl isn't an idiot, but the memory of the sacrifice of people like this nineteen year old sailor on D-Day and the quiet dignity of those remaining who remember them just seems somehow less relevant to her.
It's a shame. Remembering is probably a vital part of making sure that it never happens again. As Harry Patch said (about World War One) before he died in 2009, "It wasn’t worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands."
As the last veterans of these wars die, we need to keep the memories of them and the sacrifices they made alive so that it never happens again. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.
That's not too much to ask is it?