On a visit to London this week, I took the opportunity to pop along to Westminster to take a look at the Cenotaph which is a focus of Remembrance Sunday ceremonies in Britain. The London Cenotaph is in Whitehall,a wide street that houses many headquarters of government departments, and links the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and Trafalgar Square. The Cenotaph was erected in memory of the fallen of World War 1, but has since been engraved with the dates of both WW1 and WW2. It is however used to commemorate the fallen in all wars and it is here that they are remembered on the 2nd Sunday of November each year. Millions watch the poignant ceremony on television as Big Ben tolls the 11th hour, beginning the minute’s silence which is followed by the sounding of the Last Post.
Big Ben is the name of the bell that strikes in the belltower of the Palace of Westminster.
At the stroke of 11 a minute’s silence is observed
The Cenotaph is located in the centre of the wide thoroughfare of Whitehall
The Cenotaph is opposite the Foreign & Commonwealth Offiice
The large wreath laid by the Queen is in the centre
The wreaths make a colourful display that is retained for a number of weeks.
Just a short distance down the road at Westminster Abbey there is the Field of Remembrance memorial garden, organized by the British Legion. First begun in 1928, the lawn is marked out in 250 – 300 plots, where poppy crosses are planted in memory of regiments and armed services associations. The Field of Remembrance is located in front of Westminster Abbey and alongside St Margaret’s Church which is right beside the Abbey.
A list of the plots is provided
I think that it is hardly possible to look at the vast numbers of crosses planted here in each plot and not deplore the waste of – mostly young – human life. In particular it is hard to look at the plots of regiments involved in recent and ongoing conflicts where there are often photographs of laughing, smiling handsome young men,whose only presence on earth is now denoted by a small wooden cross. Regardless of feelings about the rights and wrongs of particular conflicts, I am left with a sense of appalling waste of life and deprivation of families and communities that each cross represents.
But the past is just the same-and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget. – Siegfried Sasoon ( 1919)
The plots for the Unknown Soldier
Plotsfor teh Unknown are in alphabetic order
The ‘Unknown’ plots line the entrance avenue alongside St Margaret’s church
These are some of the Irish Plots
Events from across the world
The Field of Remembrance is laid out in plots
These plots are in front of St Margaret’s
Plots in front of Westminster Abbey
Crosses packed tightly together in rows
Often people are weeping in remembrance of a loved one
The Field of Remembrance remains for about 10 days
Living in Ireland, it is hard to ignore the momentous events taking place in our country at the moment.
An Irish army officer at the President’s residence, announces Queen Elizabeth II – “Banríon Eilís a Dó”.
A short time later, an Irish military band plays ‘God Save The Queen, the British national anthem. The location is one of the most iconic sites in Ireland – the Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom. The President of Ireland and the British Monarch ascend the 22 steps to the memorial sculpture to lay wreaths.
The Queen steps forward to lay her wreath. She steps back, then bows her head in respect for those who died for freedom – died fighting against her country. It is a poignant moment.
Banríon Eilís a Dó at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin May 17th 2011. (Picture RTE)
The one minute’s silence that follows is intense and emotional; it brings a tear to many watching -whether present or watching on television. Kathy Sheridan in the Irish Times wrote: ”a host of old ghosts, dear and gentle, fierce and austere, hovered around a small, elderly woman, dressed in pretty ivory and sage, standing in homage before a sculpture inspired by the legend of the tragic Children of Lir and Yeats’s Easter 1916 ”
It was indeed a symbolism beyond words.