For The Fallen, a poem by Laurence Binyon, written for an English audience towards the start of the 1914-18 war, has since been adopted as a tribute to all casualties of war. This scene in Darwen’s old cemetery yesterday embodies the idea
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Darwen’s old cemetery is part wild and atmospheric, part lovingly tended, and overlooks the town from a hillside. I spent some time yesterday randomly visiting graves in the older part. I’m not sure how I was drawn there as I had planned to go up to the edge of the moor, but it seemed right.
Volunteers were working in the cemetery tidying up overgrown vegetation. Flags had been placed to mark the 97 war graves and fresh bark paths had been laid to some of the higher ones. Schools and organisations had left tributes along a memorial wall that explains the events of the war from the town’s perspective, making clear the scale of the suffering involved.
One panel on the wall, The Peace, describes what happened on and after the armistice was signed:
Darwen received confirmation of the armistice shortly after 11am which was announced by the sounding of a long blast on the fire siren and the loud ringing of the church bells. Flags and bunting appeared from nowhere… The joy of the peace was mixed with sadness for the lives lost.
…From this came the war memorial situated in Bold Venture Park which was unveiled on 24th September, 1921 by Mrs Chadwick, a mother who lost three sons in the war.
It’s chilling to remember, but we forget at our peril when so many contemporary voices are sowing division, resentment, fear and worse.
So I was happy to see so many poppies in the cemetery and adjoining Whitehall Park, many drawn by local children or made from recycled plastic and bits of wire.
When we visit the war graves, often of single men with their own neat headstone set alone or on the edge of family graves, we are in the presence of absence, reminded of generations who were not born because someone was killed.
If we owe fallen soldiers a personal duty, it is to remember that peace is fragile: that this war to end all wars didn’t.