Armistice Day 2021, Darwen

War Grave in Darwen Cemetery marked with a remembrance flag
War grave marked with a Union Jack for Armistice Day

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.

Cross of poppies fastened to a gravestone in Darwen Cemetery

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.

Children's poppy wreath and stone

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.

War memorial, Bold Venture Park in the snow
War memorial, Bold Venture Park

It’s chilling to remember, but we forget at our peril when so many contemporary voices are sowing division, resentment, fear and worse.

Rose garden poppy art, Whitehall Park, Darwen
Armistice poppies, Rose garden, Whitehall Park

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.

28 Replies to “Armistice Day 2021, Darwen”

  1. Thank you for this, so eloquent in image and text. You have expressed the inexpressible. “In the presence of absence” indeed. We owe them our best efforts towards peace, and, as you rightly point out, especially in such a time as today’s. The war memorial in the snow is particularly poignant, more so with the knowledge that it was unveiled by a mother with such grief.

    1. The angel memorial has always had a stern presence even if you don’t know anything of its story, and even though it holds an olive branch.

    1. Forgetting seems the easier option when the lessons learned are so harsh. We need a way to remember with hope and honesty – and fewer world leaders looking to gain votes by posturing like robins.

  2. You have shown to us another facet of visiting a cemetery. Yes, they might be physically gone, but they are not forgotten. Lovely memoirs you find as well, the Poppies are wonderfully made.

  3. Indeed. I was near you today, in Bury, where my grandson,an Air Cadet, was one of the flag bearers. We commented that Remembrance Day has once again assumed some national importance, attracting a largish crowd. I remember when I was younger, it was little regarded, and there were calls for its abolition. Let’s hope this is accompanied by a degree of thoughtfulness about war and its consequences.

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