It is difficult to conceive the magnitude of a conflict that over a period of 4 years would take so many millions of lives. In context, the sheer brutality of WW1 would see 10,944 casualties including 2,738 dead from 5 a.m. on the morning of November 11th 1918 until the final cessation of hostilities at 11 a.m that same day - Armistice day.
Quite rightly the magnitude and impact of this war would see the early beginnings of Remembrance Day put in place in 1919, both here in the UK and around Commonwealth. Closer to home in 1920 the war memorial at Chislehurst was dedicated at its current site with a background of thorn bushes and trees chosen by Sir Reginald Bloomfield RA.
The British Legion was formed in 1921 by a group of ex-service men to assist ex-servicemen and the organisation has subsequently grown exponentially over the years supporting those who have suffered and indeed those who continue to endure the effects of conflict in the modern world in which we live.
The organisation has also become an integral part of the Remembrance Day ceremony using the familiar sight of the red Poppy as it’s symbol of Remembrance. The symbolism of the Poppy was originally inspired by the poem written in 1915 ‘ In Flanders Fields’ by Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae having lost a friend at Ypres.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' Fields.
In the same year it was formed (1921), The British Legion sold 9 million silk poppies and raised over £106,000 – a staggering amount of money back then and in 1971 they were given Royal status making them ‘The Royal British Legion’
As expected, this centenary year of remembrance was attended by Meridian H.O.G Chapter members supporting the local Chislehurst RBL Branch and other community groups. The turnout predictably was significantly larger in number than that of previous years.
The day started with the usual early morning breakfast at the Chestnut Café which was full of Meridian members ‘fuelling up’ for the day ahead! Across the road on the Queens Head Pub forecourt local groups were starting to gather along with local Cubs and Beavers who were also setting up with their ever popular fundraising tea and cake stalls.
It really is a community atmosphere and it is great to catch up with familiar faces, group leaders, Police Officers and all those involved in the days event. Alan Stevens from the RBL was there early with the Branch ‘Standard’, Poppies for sale and the Meridian H.O.G Chapter wreath.
By 10:25 all surrounding roads were closed by the Police. Meridian Member and Parade Marshal Fred Blunden called the Parade into line and Meridian Road Captain Steve Uffindell took up his position at the front as RBL Standard Bearer.
The parade completed the half mile walk up to the Memorial where we were met by other groups, dignitaries and clergy and by 10:50 the service began – as did the rain! At first the rain fell quite gently but by the time 2 minutes silence was being observed umbrellas were up and it was falling quite hard
At this point of quiet remembrance and reflection of those who gave so much in WW1 and all other conflicts I thought it quite poignant that the rain should be quite heavy, it was almost like millions of tears being shed in memory of the millions who had succumbed to war.
Every year we lay wreaths on behalf of Meridian Chapter and also ‘The Monte Cassino Society’ and I feel it is important that as many members are given the opportunity to take part in the ceremony and lay the wreaths. To this end I ask different members each year if they would like the honour of doing so. This year Road Captain Alan Wright laid the Wreath on behalf of our Chapter and long-time member Vic Davey laid the Wreath on behalf of ‘The Monte Cassino Society’ - they did so with pride.
By 11:10 the rain had passed and soon after the Service of Remembrance had finished and the task of our Parade Master Fred Blunden was get get everyone to ‘fall in’ again and march back to the Queens Head.
Once back, the groups mingled for what seemed to be ages, no one was in a rush to leave, teas and cakes were still being served by the local Cubs and Beavers group. Ex services and Legion members opted for something a little stronger in the pub before slowly drifting away at around 1 p.m.
One rather pleasing point at the end of the morning was a request for myself and Fred to go along to the Cub group next year before Remembrance Sunday to give them a short talk on the Ceremony, the significance of poppies and also some assistance with Standard bearing. A small acceptance I thought of Meridian Chapters presence both at the event and in the local Community.
Well done everyone who turned out for this very special occasion, without doubt you all played a key part in a successful and respectful day - We will remember them.
Charter Member & Assistant Director
Meridian Chapter Harley Owners Group
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