Letters to the Canary: a poignant essay on Armistice Day – ‘Lest We Forget’

Letters to the Canary
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This week’s letters

This week we have a poignant short essay around remembrance and Armistice Day – in the context of Israel and Palestine. 

Lest we forget on Armistice Day

Last week prime minister Rishi Sunak said “to plan protests on Armistice Day is provocative and disrespectful”. Given the history, the meaning and the purpose I cannot think of a more respectful act today.

The main message of the protests which will take place across the UK on Sat 11 November 2023, are to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, and for the UK to stop arming Israel. But only the march in London seems to pose a problem.

And this week the home secretary waded in, comparing those marching for peace with the far right. Peace activists have been left feeling bemused that a peace march on Armistice Day has become the source of such controversy.

“The Armistice, an agreement to end the fighting of the First World War as a prelude to peace negotiations, began at 11am on 11 November 1918. Armistice is Latin for to stand (still) arms” – the Royal British Legion.

Read on...

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An armistice is to literally cease firing so that peace negotiations might take place. And every year since, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month we remember the moment with two minutes silence.

Armistice Day was established in the aftermath of WW1, “the war to end all wars”. The saying was taken from a 1914 book by H.G. Wells, but gained popularity due to the sheer scale of the devastation and loss of life.

Armistice day was established as a mark of respect for all those in the armed forces who had fallen, and who have fallen since – and as an act of remembrance for future generations to never again make the mistakes of the past.

The modern peace movement has its roots in this post WW1 collective desire to avoid future conflict, bloodshed, and the massive loss of life experienced by many of the nations who had taken part.

Lest we forget the peace movement was largely founded & led by mothers of the fallen.

Lest we forget, we will remember those who sacrificed their lives, so that we might live. In the aftermath of WWII we remember all those who sacrificed their lives so that we might live free from the tyranny of fascism.

Lest we forget many people wear flowers as a symbol of remembrance. In Wales many wore daffodils, in France the Bluet de France was worn, and in recent years the Saffron Marigold has become the Indian flower of remembrance.

Around the world poppies have long been used as a symbol of remembrance. The white poppy was first introduced by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1933 as a lasting symbol for peace and an end to all wars.

And over 100 years since that first armistice, it is the red poppy that grew on Flanders Fields, and immortalised by Canadian the poet John McCrae, which became the flower of remembrance for the fallen used to this day.

Lest we forget.

And the red poppy has also long featured in Palestinian art and has come to symbolise resistance, sacrifice, and indigenous Palestinian heritage. It is the colours of the poppy which make up the Palestinian flag.

In 1920 following the collapse of the multicultural Ottoman empire, the mandate for Palestine was assigned to the UK and ended amidst the bloodshed of the 1947-1949 Palestinian war.

214 British service personnel lost their lives, largely thanks to the competing promises the British government had made to two separate groups of people. Many more Israelis and Palestinians were killed. The rest is history.

On armistice day 2023, amidst the ongoing siege of Gaza, on a day when we are asked to remember the sacrifices made by British service personnel – I can think of no more respectful an act than a march for peace.

What I do find both provocative and deeply disrespectful are those who would seek to portray peace marchers as a hate-filled mob. Who would use Armistice Day to gloss over history, deliberately forget the sacrifices of the fallen and use this day to sow division and discord amongst us.

Lest we forget, we remember the fallen.

Lest we forget, they march for peace.

Lest we forget.

Ken, via email

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  • Show Comments
      1. Your words come across like those of the far-right thugs who spent Saturday aggressively ‘defending’ the London Cenotaph against… no one. You present straw men. Hamas is a reactionary, Islamist organisation that has only minority support from the Palestinian people, but you didn’t mention its support from the State of Israel, which helped create it in 1987. As for Nazism, it is becoming ever clearer that the inherently fascist Zionist movement learned many of the wrong lessons from WWII.

      2. Supporting calls for justice for the Palestinians is the only way that peace will ever be achieved in Israel/Palestine. People who have been badly wronged will not give up the struggle for justice while they have the ability to carry on fighting back in whatever way they can. Your post, Shredni, indicates you have no desire for peace, rather the eradication of the Palestinians.

    1. Hamas were elected by the people of Gaza just as the Nazis were elected by the people of Germany.Both the Nazis and Hamas brought tragedy and suffering to their respective peoples.By the way I despise Tommy Robinson and the far right just as much as I despise the far left.You obviously live in a fantasy world where anyone who disagrees with you is a fascist because you are so wonderful and pure.

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