As the sunset dawns on another Remembrance Day, and with all that now occupies us in 2020 perhaps making this year’s service somewhat lower-key than normal, it is perhaps ironic that this year in itself signifies one of the most remarkable anniversaries. One hundred years ago, on a cold November morning, King George V took up his position facing the Cenotaph in central London and on the east side of the memorial (which itself celebrates its centenary this year) a lone gun carriage carried a coffin made of English oak taken from the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. The coffin, after the inaugural two minutes silence, was then taken the short distance up through Whitehall, across Parliament Square to its final resting place, Westminster Abbey.
There, surrounded by one hundred Victoria Cross recipients and a congregation of weeping widows and mothers, the body was interned. More than 1.2 million people paid their respects. Seven days later it was covered in a black Belgium marble cover stone simply stating that they had “buried him among the Kings because he had done good towards God and towards his house”. The idea conceived in 1916 by the Reverend David Railton MC had become a reality. The grave of the Unknown Soldier still rests there today.
For those lucky enough to have ventured into the great throws of the Abbey, the grave can sometimes be overlooked. Its very position in the floor can sometimes resign it ironically to being forgotten. But its very existence and the very reason it came to be must never be forgotten. The fact that four soldiers of the Great War were initially brought to St Pol for possible selection and then repatriation, but only one was chosen, does send a message. It was not the who that was important but their service. The unrecognised can be and is important. Those not mentioned by name do make a difference.
As my own late father would drill into me with an almost metronomic charm, and sadly one that I would never be able to give him enough credit for, “Just try and do the right thing every day my son.” For me, this is also the message that can be taken on board by our children. Sometimes, and I am myself guilty of this, we do not always recognise the simple things “done right”. We often take this as a given and, dare I say it, for granted. But they are important. Hard work, not necessarily spectacular but certainly consistent, is the cornerstone for any successful education.
Ultimately, the family of the man committed eternally “among the Kings” will never be able to have that solace, that satisfaction, that recognition of what their family member sacrificed. But it mattered. In a period of unimaginable uncertainty, on occasions that it is not always recognised, let it be known to our children that the pursuit of doing the right thing every day matters. It really does.
Head of History and RS