What Passing Bells
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we shall remember them. It was at precisely eleven am on the eleventh of November in 1918 that the armistice was signed and the war to end all wars was finally over.
Then in 1939, a bigger war that had far more global consequences was fought until 1945. In both of these wars so many British people died. We remember them at eleven o’clock on the eleventh of November every year, wherever we are. For two minutes, we are silent.
Here in Crete, there is a regular service in Souda Bay that is actually timed at one pm. With Greece two hours ahead of the UK this makes the Remembrance service both here and in Britain happen at exactly the same time. If you wish to go, then you should be at the Souda Bay War Cemetery at 12.45 am.
The purpose of this service is to remember those men and women who gave their lives in both wars in order to protect our country and its way of life. It is not about glory or honour, it is just about remembering them and the supreme sacrifice that they gave us all. They gave everything.
And every year we should remember them in silence, in the privacy of our own mind, lest we forget . .
For if we ever forget how they died, how they suffered, and what personal courage they mustered for a greater cause than themselves, we may find ourselves slipping back into war and death again. For them, we have tried to build a world more civilised, a world free of war.
Whether we have yet done so will always be open to discussion, but that is and has always been our aim. We who remember them.
In the preface of his book of poetry, Wilfred Owen, a man who was killed in the closing months of the first world war, wrote these lines:
“This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.
Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.
Above all, I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.”
Here is one of the poems that Wilfred Owen wrote:
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
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