11 November – the date which marks the end of The Great War. The date around which we come together to remember those who died in that war and subsequent conflicts. A most significant date ingrained into Britain’s sombre consciousness since established in 1919. So let us never forget the complete dog’s breakfast made of Armistice Day 2023.
In previous years it has been customary that the weekend of remembrance provides local and national opportunities to reflect upon and honour the ultimate sacrifice made by individuals, families, and communities from across Britain and around the Commonwealth. A time to remind ourselves that young men and women have, and still do, put their lives on the line to maintain our security and freedoms. An annual occasion to honour veterans still with us and to thank them for their service. If we are lucky, we know at least a few.
And so this last Remembrance Day should have offered another chance to mull over and to teach our children of the cruel dues paid for liberal democracy. Cherished freedoms of speech, thought, expression, long-held rights to criticise and protest do not come cheap. For let us never forget that the Second World War was not a fight to save Britain, the Second World War was a fight to save an established British way of life. Doubtless Britain would have continued to exist had the fight been lost, but only as a German dependency. So, let us never forget that the Second World War was a fight to save Britain from the Nazis in particular and to defeat fascism more generally. As such, Remembrance Sunday should continue to signify and reaffirm the long, continuing, and bloody fight against racism and intolerance.
Not this year. Unfortunately, remembrance events were overshadowed by ineptitude and right-wing violence. At a local level, conversations of remembrance, this year, largely swirled around the failure of Ceredigion County Council to adequately prepare for a date that has been in their diary for over a century. Costs and organisation, this year, foisted upon furious veterans. This year felt like there was more chat around town about that disgraceful state of affairs than there was for the meaning of Remembrance Sunday. A humiliation for the region.
At a national level, like many, I watched shocking but predictable events unfold in London. The Saturday services and the space around the Cenotaph, this year, sullied with violence, Nazi salutes, and cries of ‘Sieg Heil’. Shocking, saddening, but no surprise to most when our government, individuals charged with leading national Remembrance Day services, attempt to co-opt the day as the preserve of the right wing of politics. When British fascists are emboldened by a British Home Secretary and all but encouraged to bring their hate-filled rhetoric to within yards of solemn proceedings when, for me and many others, there is little more left wing than memorialising the war against Nazis.
But the usual suspects have been tilting at windmills. Suggested that marching for a ceasefire in the Middle East was incompatible with, or the opposite of, marking the end of a conflict and remembering the fallen. And so an exclusion area was set in place around the cenotaph for all those attending the pro-Palestinian march (but apparently not for neo-fascists opposed to liberal democracy). But as was shown, little requires protecting from peace protestors. Least of all, poppy sellers.
I did not venture to London (awful place and far too far away), but had I, like many, it would have presented no moral conflict to pay respects at the Cenotaph before marching for peace in Palestine whilst proudly wearing a poppy. For most, including me, failings in British foreign policy are not conflated with the crucial work of the British Legion.
Of course, the few individuals on the pro-Palestine march who did incite racial hatred with antisemitic vitriol or hate-fuelling imagery should be prosecuted - we have laws for that. By all accounts such unacceptable incidents were few and far between and neither reflected the family-friendly atmosphere nor represented the peaceable views of the overwhelming majority of 300,000 marchers. Those who try to equate hateful perhaps criminal actions by the tiniest fringe of the peace protest with the widespread and day-long pitched battles instigated by far-right “counter protesters” are clutching at the feeblest of straws.
Well, we have 50 weeks left to avoid repeating the shameful mess of 2023. Next year, nationally, Remembrance Day is not only an opportunity to pay respects to the fallen, to thank those who serve, but also to reaffirm the fight against fascism at home and abroad. That the primary reason we have a diverse portfolio of political ideologies in this United Kingdom is because of the sacrifice made by those fighting nationalism and authoritarianism. And locally, it can never again be left to veterans like John Davies to fund and organise appropriate Remembrance Day events.
Footnote: It seems obvious that John Davies should run for office. I imagine John won’t want to, but people who don’t seek public office are exactly the people who should run. Public office requires populating by individuals who can do a job but are not motivated by money, badges, party politics, or power for themselves.
John Davies is a perfect example of numerous local men and women who have vast experience volunteering their skill, time, and effort on behalf of our communities. Individuals who, for free, often at cost to themselves, manage local sports clubs, societies, and charities. Capable individuals motivated for all the right reasons. Run for public office. Get paid. Why not?