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Lest We Forget- Remembrance Sunday 2019

As banders, we’re used to our calendars being filled with band jobs. Contests, carolling, concerts, marches, etc- we get a lot done in a year! Of course we treat each gig with respect and commitment, but some gigs do carry a higher status than others. The National Finals, The Regionals, Whit Friday, The Open are just a few of the main highlights in the banding calendar, but (in my opinion anyway) there is one performance that is the most important gig of the year.

Taken for Granted

I’d spent the night before Remembrance Sunday watching The British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance, with the other two of the Three Banding Musketeers (Natalie and Daffodil). I’d like to think that I don’t take life for granted. However when I hear the stories of veterans and families of veterans, I realise that I do. How many times have I groaned when getting up in the morning when the heating isn’t on, whilst hurrying to find my dressing gown and slippers? I don’t go a week without complaining that work has been tiring. I get unnecessarily grumpy (or ‘hangry’ as the trendy kids call it) when I’ve not eaten for a couple of hours and declare myself ‘starving’. I’m twenty-three and I can say I’ve never been ordered to get on a boat, sail to the shores of France and attempt to disembark whilst being pelted with shells and the bullets from enemy fire. I’ve not been sent up in a plane, ordered to jump out of said plane and try to land without going behind enemy lines. I’ve not been dragged off to a Prisoner of War camp and tortured for information. I’ve not had to watch my friends or relatives be injured or killed in battle. I’ve not had to sit an listen for the name of a loved one on the wireless, praying that it isn’t read out. What is astounding is that many, many people have experienced all of this before they were my age. How would I have coped with being sent away to fight at nineteen? Considering I struggled with moving away to uni, I don’t think I would have been much use.

Festival of Remembrance 2019

A Selfless Choice

During the summer, I read about an extraordinary man called Noel Chavasse, who served as a doctor in the British army during World War One. You don’t need a history degree to know about the horrors that a doctor would have to face during battle, but this man went above and beyond the call of duty. Noel saved countless lives during the war by dragging men from no-mans land to safety before treating them. In the darkness, he avoided sniper bullets and shell fire, constantly risking his life and eventually sacrificing his life in order to give others a chance at survival.

Noel Chavasse

Over the course of the weekend, I also learned about an extraordinary woman, Channing Day, who served in the British Army as a Medic in Afghanistan. Becoming a medic to begin with, I can imagine, is a daunting job, but a medic in the army with all the potential horrors and risk to your own safety- I completely admire the bravery of the heroes who choose this role. Channing was sadly killed on patrol in Helmand Province.

Corporal Channing Day

The most stressful thing to happen to me at work is if my computer crashes. Channing had to accompany a platoon of soldiers in case medical assistance was required and provide that assistance regardless of the risk posed against her life. Noel had to avoid enemy fire to find his fallen comrades. Neither were forced into this role. Noel didn’t need to find the fallen in the churned up battlefields, that wasn’t in his job description. Channing didn’t need to sign up for the army. There was no obligation for them to put themselves in such a great amount of danger. This was a choice they made. A selfless choice. A brave choice. There’s not a lot I can do that seems worthy enough to commemorate people such as Noel and Channing. Blowing down a metal pipe is not enough to repay their sacrifice. Regardless, I was determined to at least be able to show my respect, admiration and gratitude for all those who risked so much for the sake of others by playing the best performance I possibly could.

At the Cenotaph

I woke up on Sunday 10th November 2019 to….sunshine?! I’ve played in Remembrance services since I was twelve and I can’t remember the last time I played in the sunshine. I’m used to standing underneath grey clouds in a sodden band uniform. There are not many occasions that I will voluntarily force myself out of bed before 10:00am on a Sunday. However, despite being bleary eyed and yawning every five minutes, I counted myself lucky that I was getting out of a warm bed with a roof over my head rather than waking up in a trench with bullets flying above me.

Eccles Borough Band- Remembrance Sunday 2019

Despite the sun, it was freezing and I hadn’t worn anywhere near as many layers as I needed. One of our solo cornet players, Dennis (or Den-Dog as he is affectionately known) was kind enough to lend me his gloves, as I was the dope who forgot hers and my fingers were turning blue. Again, I would not be fit for army life- too much of a muppet for them to sign me up in the first place and I am far too much of a wimp, as proven in this scenario. The ceremony began. I’ve become soft in my old age and I cry at pretty much everything nowadays. Last year’s Remembrance Sunday was testament to that, when the organisers decided to play Abide With Me through the speaker system as an elderly veteran made his way to the cenotaph. Despite his limited mobility, his determination to lay down his wreathe and salute unaided was beyond moving and I found myself with very sweaty eyes.

This year, however, I’d managed to hold myself together for the most part of the ceremony. I was moved during the Last Post, which was played beautifully by our principal cornet, Debbie, but still kept a professional face. I thought I’d finally got through a Remembrance Sunday with a little bit of dignity. That was until we played Nimrod. I’ve never really been a fan of Nimrod. It’s not a piece that’s ever really moved me. However as the sound swelled towards the conclusion of the piece, thoughts swirled in my mind as I played:

  1. Everything I read about Noel Chavasse- the horrors he’d witnessed, the stress and danger he continuously put himself through.

  2. The stories of veterans and their families- the pain of loss, the fear, the sacrifice.

  3. My Great-Grandad who served as a stretcher-bearer in the First World War.

  4. The thought of bandrooms up and down the country bearing empty seats where a player had once sat before he had traded his instrument in for a rifle.

Tears did well in my eyes as we hit the last note. You can say what you want about wearing a poppy or the fact we still hold Remembrance services. I know some people believe that it glorifies war. In that case, would going to a funeral glorify whatever that person died from? Of course not. We celebrate the life of that person. We pay our respects to that person. How many thousands of men didn’t get the respect of a proper burial? This is why Remembrance is important. I know it’s usually cold and there are a million things we could be doing on a Sunday, but it should be nothing less than an honour to pay our respects to those who sacrificed a lifetime of Sundays.

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