There’s no getting away from the fact that this year’s period of Remembrance will be like no other before. This wretched disease means we can’t be together in person, but it is now more important than ever that we are together in spirit.
I am always left inspired by the reverence Yorkshire shows for our Armed Forces community. Here in Barnsley, thousands of people turn out every year – rain or shine – to pay their respects to the service and sacrifice others have made. It is a lesson in community solidarity and its absence will be sorely felt.
As it was in May when we commemorated the anniversary of VE Day, Remembrance Sunday is yet another reminder of just how privileged we are that a number of veterans from that conflict are still with us today. Our town is immensely proud to call Tom Hicks one of our own: at 101 years young, the Arnhem veteran represents the very best of us.
The freedoms we enjoy today are a result of his determination – we must cherish him and his comrades while we can. As their stories move from living memory to the pages of history, it is incumbent on us all to ensure their legacy stands forever.
And just as the Second World War generation did seventy-five years ago, we too must overcome an extraordinary challenge. We should remember the courage and resilience they showed and draw strength from their solidarity.
As well as being a collective expression of our gratitude and commitment, Remembrance is a deeply personal experience. As someone who served and saw friends fall, the act of commemoration is particularly important to me. Not just because of the respect I have for the sacrifice others made, but because I hope that in the years to come, the sacrifice made by my friends will also be remembered.
It’s nearly ten years since I left the Army. I used to fear that as time went on, I might slowly forget my experiences, my comrades. As the years have ticked away, I’ve found the opposite is true. The more distant those memories get, the stronger they become. On Sunday morning, my thoughts will turn to those who didn’t return from deployments and to those who did but lost their lives in the time since.
Remembrance is also an opportunity to say thank you to those who continue to serve today. Our Armed Forces don’t occupy the headlines in the way they did only a few years ago but we must always champion those who made the life-changing decision to join. It’s been incredibly heartening to see our service men and women back in the public eye and supporting the national effort to overcome this crisis.
There is no doubt about the difficulties we face but this public health crisis should not and cannot break the cycle of Remembrance. We owe those – like Tom – who put their lives on the line for us a massive debt. Their sacrifice must always be commemorated. Remembrance was, is, and will forever be, a moment to reflect on the past and everyone who died to protect and build the Britain we live in today. And a moment to repay that debt by working towards a more peaceful future. In that respect, this year is no different.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 6 November 2020.