The significance of Remembrance

04 November 2020

My first thoughts surrounding Remembrance date back to my school days and trying to mind what had occurred during the two World Wars. Many years later and as a Local Preacher, I remember leading worship on VE Day 1995 and basing the act of worship around the closing days of War in Europe. So for many years, Remembrance to me involved considering the events of conflict, for which I had no direct knowledge or engagement.

On joining the Royal Navy in September 2005, I became aware of the significance of Remembrance across the Naval Service and the Royal Marines in particular, many of whom had served in recent conflicts, suffering the loss of colleagues or dealing with traumatic injuries. It was evident that Remembrance had a real connection, and was a moment for service people to do just that – remember.

The following year I was in Afghanistan, and by the time it came around to November, 3 Commando Brigade and in particular the Unit that I was serving with, had already suffered several fatalities and seriously wounded personnel. Remembrance was poignant as memories were very fresh and raw. Gathering together at 0700 (deliberately early) in our camp in the middle of Sangin, it was cold and bright. We had to keep the Service short, in order to reduce the opportunity of attack, and so we sang the Corps hymn, said a few prayers and many of us shed a tear as the bugler sounded out. In the middle of a busy, dangerous operational tour – Remembrance was a moment when folk felt they could stop, think of their friends and their loved ones, and for a brief moment, allow their emotions some space.

A few years later, I was celebrating Remembrance at sea, in sunny climes with the waves lapping against the side of the ship. Whilst the location was different, it was once again an opportunity to pause and be aware of the organisation in which we serve and make sacrifice. So often the military culture is one where the phrase ‘non-emotional’ is bandied about. Whether that means not smiling and looking ‘non-emotional’ in a photograph, or jumping into the cold water in Norway ‘non-emotionally’ and thereby remaining silent.

However, Remembrance is an opportunity to pause, reflect and give one’s emotions a little space. My mind goes back to my tours of Afghanistan, and I think of those that we lost and those whose lives were traumatically changed. For a brief moment, I can almost sense the smells and sounds of life out there, but then I quickly switch back to the present, and mentally wish the bugler well as they prepare to sound Reveille!

Rev’d B Gates RN