This chapter was written on 9th November, Remembrance Sunday 2020 in memory of those soldiers who have fallen for their country in the first two world wars, and every war since. We shall remember them.
(Copyright, I Vow To Thee my Country, Eternal Father Strong to Save, God Save The Queen, and For The Fallen. These are all songs, and a poem traditionally used in a Remembrance Day service in England. For any American readers out there, you may already be familiar with the tune to God Save the Queen, it is the original tune for My Country is to Thee.)
11th November 1954
How are you? I hope you and Mum are having a nice time up there, you’ve probably found Granny and Grandpa now, so you’re all happy together.
It’s Remembrance Day, so I’m writing to you. I think about you every day, but even more today, especially as you died in November, so I thought I’d write to you.
Anthony and I have been together for nearly two months now. You never knew him, but I wrote to you about him a few times. You would have liked him, Anthony’s usually quite quiet with his head in a book, but he’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.
He shouted at Grandpa the first time he ever met him! For some reason, Grandpa always respected him after that for standing up for his opinions.
Fred and Ginger are still spinning madly, but they don’t usually go by Fred and Ginger anymore, they usually call each other Mark and Julie now.
Anthony and I are thinking about going to university in a few years now, I’m thinking about either taking Latin or French. I’ll probably take Classics though because the subject fascinates me, particularly Latin Literature, Anthony and I have been reading through a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses from the library.
My crochet’s getting very good! I’ve nearly finished my first jumper, don’t tell Anthony, but I’m actually making it for him as a Christmas present.
I’ve started living with Uncle Davy in the holidays when I’m not visiting the Pennington’s, the base he’s at is only fifteen minutes away, so he sometimes takes Anthony and me out at weekends to go for tea or go to the cinema.
I don’t know if you’re reading this, but I was thinking of you, so I thought I’d write. I know that you Mum, Granny and Grandpa are watching over me and making sure I’m alright.
Send my love to Mummy, Granny and Grandpa,
I miss you all loads! Love always, Athene Ruth Richards.
“Athene we’re going to be late!” said Julie.
“What are you doing?” asked Julie confused.
“I’m writing to my Dad.”
“Your Dads dead,” said Julie.
“I know that,” said Athene shrugging, “I’m going to put the letter by the memorial.”
“Even if my Dad doesn’t read it, it makes me feel slightly better that there’s even a possibility that Dad’s reading it.”
“That actually makes sense,” said Julie, “in a strange kind of way.”
“How’s my hair?” asked Charlie desperately.
“It’s fine,” said Athene straightening Charlie’s hat slightly on top of her bun.
Charlie was in her cadet uniform and was practising her salute.
They were getting ready for the Remembrance Day service, they didn’t have lessons anyway as it was a Saturday.
The local chaplain was coming in from the village to hold the service, and all the cadets were wearing their uniforms. Everyone else was wearing their school uniforms even if it was Saturday.
Athene carefully tied some black velvet ribbons on the end of her plaits and picked her letter off of her desk.
“You girls ready?” asked Harry poking his head around the door.
“Aye aye sir!” said Charlie giving him her best salute.
“Remember that,” he muttered holding her close, “I might want you to do that again later.”
“Don’t mess up my hair,” laughed Charlie, “I only just got it right.”
“You two are disgusting you know that?” asked Mark.
He seemed to think that this was an entire waste of a perfectly good Saturday morning, he should be practising. He was going to make up for it this afternoon though.
“You alright Athene?” asked Anthony putting his arm around her waist.
“Hmm,” she muttered picking up her letter and a small posy of poppies.
“Come on then,” said Anthony.
It was a good thing it wasn’t raining, even if it was cold because the Remembrance Day service had to be held outside because the statue was outside.
There were several hundred chairs set up outside by the War Memorial. There was a soldier coming home from war, and the names of all the students from the school who had died during the two wars. It seemed strange to think, that there were more names engraved on that statue than there were students at the school now.
It wasn’t just the students coming to the service though, some troops from the nearby military bases of Andover and Aldershot were coming. They were going to be standing at the front with the St Christopher’s military cadets for the whole service. At least Athene and Anthony were going to get to be able to sit down, Harry and Charlie were going to have to stand to attention for the whole service.
Athene sat down with Anthony at the front as she had to go up to lay something at the monument.
As the troops and the cadets marched up to the front, they all sang I Vow To Thee My Country.
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
The troops that had come to show their respect for their fallen comrades were carrying their regimental flags, and the cadets also had their regimental flag. Nick was standing proudly at the front, holding up the British flag. As they got to the front, they all formed in three straight lines and stood to attention, facing the monument.
The vicar came up to the front and stood in front of the people standing attention.
“Good morning, in a few minutes we will have the Last Post and the two minutes silence, but first of all I would like to remind you all, that whilst we commentate our fallen soldiers today from the two world wars, there are still other wars going on today, in Malaya for example.”
Athene bit her lip to stop herself from crying.
“The 1914-18 war was supposed to be the great war, the war to end all wars. Unfortunately of course it wasn’t, so whilst thinking about our fallen heroes today, let us also hope that we won’t have another world war, ever again.”
The headmaster came up to the microphone, he was carrying a huge book. Athene knew why the book was so large, and why they always had to start the service at twenty to eleven, because the death list was so long.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”
“We will remember them,” replied the whole school.
Then there was silence as the headmaster put on his reading glasses.
“First, the 1914-18 war. Barney Archibald, David Archibald, Henry Archibald, Walter Archibald, Christopher Arnold.”
The list went on, for what felt like hours until he finally reached the last name, Richard Wells.
Athene noticed Mr Wells the music and drama teacher flinch slightly at this last name, he was carrying a wreath like everyone else in the front row, maybe Richard Wells had been his brother?
At this point, one of the boys from the Lower Fifth came up to the microphone with his trumpet, and he played the last post.
As the boy finished playing there was dead silence throughout the grounds, apart from the ringing of the clock tower, for eleven o’clock.
It was such a waste! Thought Athene tears in her eyes as she stood silently next to Anthony. So many people had died.
Anthony squeezed her hand slightly as she cried.
At the end of the two minutes silence, the vicar came back up in front of the students.
“Before we lay the wreaths, I would like us to remember our forces, those who have served in them, and those who are still serving in them now. There are two versions of this song, but we are going to be singing the newer version of this song which remembers all three areas of her majesties forces, the army, air force and navy, not just the navy. If you would all please join me in singing, Eternal Father Strong to Save.”
Almighty Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.
O Christ, the Lord of hill and plain
O’er which our traffic runs amain
By mountain pass or valley low;
Wherever, Lord, thy brethren go,
Protect them by thy guarding hand
From every peril on the land.
O Spirit, whom the Father sent. To spread abroad the firmament; O Wind of heaven, by thy might Save all who dare the eagle’s flight, And keep them by thy watchful care. From every peril in the air.
O Trinity of love and power,
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them whereso’er they go,
Thus evermore shall rise to thee
Glad praise from air and land and sea.
At the end of the hymn, a small line began to form of people with wreaths or flowers to lay. People with family in the forces, or who knew someone how had died in the service for their country. There was about fifty in the line in total, including Mr Wells who was carrying a wreath of Poppy’s that had an old black and white photograph of two brother’s attached.
As they finished singing, the troops and cadets saluted the statue and stood rigidly still as people walked up to pay their respects.
Athene reached in her pocket and pulled out her own small offering, her little posy of poppy’s and her letter.
The line slowly moved forwards and Athene slowly found herself moving forwards in the line.
As each person reached the statue, they gave a brief salute or nod of the head before leaving their poppys in a free space on the statue.
Athene was one of the last person people to go up. She gave the soldier on the statue a salute, before kneeling down and finding a spare place left around the statue.
“I miss you Dad,” she whispered softly before kissing the letter and placing her small bunch of flowers and the letter down in a free space.
It was a windy day and the letter blew away as she got up.
She tried to catch it, but Mr Wells who had been standing behind caught it almost instantly.
He gave her a small smile before taking her hand.
They both walked up to the monument together and laid his own wreath.
He weighted her letter down with his wreath so that it wouldn’t blow away again.
“Thank you,” she said smiling at Mr Wells.
Mr Wells shrugged and they both went down from the statue so the last few people could lay their own wreaths.
“You alright?” whispered Anthony as she came back to her seat.
“I’m fine,” muttered Athene sitting down.
When the final offering had been laid, then the headmaster came back up to the front.
“And now we shall end with the singing of our national anthem.”
"God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen!
O Lord our God arise,
Scatter our enemies,
And make them fall!
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all!
Not in this land alone,
But be God’s mercies known,
From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world o’er.
From every latent foe,
From the assassins blow,
God save the Queen!
O’er her thine arm extend,
For Britain’s sake defend,
Our mother, prince, and friend,
God save the Queen!
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour,
Long may she reign!
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen!
As they finished singing the national anthem, Charlie and the others finally stepped out of the salute and out of attention, and marched to the back.
When they finished singing Athene turned to Mr Wells who looked like he was about to leave.
“Mr Wells,” said Athene.
“Can I talk to you for a moment.”
“If it really is a moment Athene,” said Mr Wells, “I’ve got choir practise soon.”
“Thank you for earlier,” she said.
“Oh it’s nothing,” he muttered.
“And I’m sorry about your brother Richard.”
“How did you know?” he exclaimed.
“I guessed,” she said smiling slightly.
“Me and my brother both went to school here, he died in the war, but I lived, he was two years older than me.”
“I really am sorry,” she said.
“And I’m sorry about your father,” he said putting his hands on her shoulders, “no one should ever lose their father that young.”