Thursday, November 11, 2004

A note of thanks, to those still living, and those who will never return

Today is now Armistice Day. To all those still living who have, over many decades, served and defended the freedom of this country, I offer my deepest thanks. To all those who are still serving, at home and abroad, I offer my thanks and heartfelt prayers that you will remain safe. To those from other countries who have, in current times and in times past offered their lives for our help, my profound gratitude. To those whose relatives will never come home, my sincerest condolences. And to those who will never come home themselves, each day when I read about other places in the world I am thankful for my freedom, and each day I reflect on the many human sacrifices that secured it. However, it is at this time of year that I find myself able to concentrate on the wider aspects, able to focus on what it really means deep down, to me.

It is the soldier, sailor, and airman who are at the front lines of freedom today, defending it, securing it, enabling it, empowering it. For all the talk of the vast panoply of liberal western focus groups it is our servicemen and women who are putting their lives on the line. The torch of freedom has passed on from the heroes of yesteryear and is now held high by the heroes of this current hour. However, all too frequently, in years past and today, those heroes make the ultimate sacrifice. Those men and women, then and now, they died for something, they died for us. I only hope that I can make the most of my freedom, so dearly bought.

But here, safely in my home, all I write seems somehow inadequate to the task, and anything I might say and do seems somehow trite, too easy. And of course it is, for there is nothing I can do, safely here at home, that matches with they do and have done.

As I have said before, of all the memorable lines of writing that echo across my soul one poem has always stood out, from the moment I first heard it in school. That is the poem "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon. As ongoing events in Iraq make plain, these lines are just as expressive now as when they were first penned, in September 1914.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is a music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncountered:
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end they remain.

Thank you for my freedom.

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