HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
The Canadian Army officer, John McCrae, wrote a poem during the Second Battle of Ypres that has come to define how we commemorate the terrible events of the First World War. McCrae wrote ‘In Flanders fields’ after helping to bury a friend killed on active service, and having seen poppies blooming around the graves of the war dead. His poem opens with the now famous line ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.’
A century has passed since McCrae conjured that evocative description. Some people may ask why we still commentate an event that has gone from living memory. Indeed, with many who fought in the Second World War having passed away, the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle suggested recently that the day will come when ‘we will begin to let go of these rituals. One day, the head of state will no longer lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in November for the long-distant dead.’
Regrettably, such comments disregard Remembrance Sunday’s symbolic significance. Not only does this occasion mark the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives in the Great War, it has also come to denote our respect for the men and women who have served our nation in the hundred years since, including, of course, those who continue to do so now.
Last year I was delighted to work with the Ayscoughfee Hall museum, the Spalding Royal British Legion, the Western Front Association and others to raise funds to restore the memorial in Ascoughfee Gardens, so ensuring that we honour those whose sacrifices have allowed us to live in the peace they couldn’t come home to enjoy.
For many years now on Remembrance Sunday morning I have joined veterans, local youth organisations and others to lay a wreath at the war memorial in Spalding, before, in the afternoon, joining the Holbeach Remembrance parade to lay wreaths of poppies at the war memorial outside All Saint’s church.
This year, like last, I also had the honour of laying a wreath on Armistice Day at London’s Cenotaph at the invitation of the Western Front Association.
It’s right that we commemorate those who gave their lives for our country; these solemn acts of remembrance, symbolised by the poppies worn on our jackets and coats, serving as a reminder of the debt we owe to those who have gone before us.
Truly, they are the ‘the glorious dead’.