On Armistice Day in 1918 at 11am Birmingham people stopped work and people acknowledged, in their own way, that the war was over. Large crowds gathered in the churchyard at Birmingham Cathedral as a service was being held at midday. So many people wanted to attend the service it had to be conducted three times. In this unique moment the cathedral was a natural space for reflection for so many. This week at 11am on 11th November, we paused again.
On 4 August this year, one hundred years after the outbreak of World War One, a special commemorative event was held at Birmingham Cathedral. There were art displays, readings, music and singing, as well as moments of silence and reflection. The bells were tolled on muffles and people were encouraged to leave messages expressing their thoughts and reflections. The event was attended by a huge range of people some who stayed all evening, some who popped in for five minutes to just to linger and think about the day and its significance.
The messages left range from thoughts on the cruelty of war and the bravery of those who played an active part to more specific events and personal stories. There is reference to the contribution of the scouts who supported the war effort particularly at home, assisting with tasks normally done by men fighting in France. There is mention of the Worcestershire regiment whose immense effort and bravery at Gheluvelt prevented a German breakthrough, the importance of the miners who risked their lives to keep home fires burning, and the Quaker community who objected to the war but provided aid and support in so many other ways.
Names of soldiers are on many of the cards commemorated by proud and loving family members. Two sets of brothers, both killed, are remembered, a war hero who fought at Mons in 1914 and lived to the age of 98, an Uncle Arthur, “a very private man” who never spoke of his experiences, Walter, an ANZAC, a survivor who fought at Galipolli, George who did not live to see his son, and a childhood friend who lost her loved one in France. People talk of precious items that help tell the story of their loved ones, a badge, a letter, a photo that was sent home.
The word “Thankyou” appears frequently as people reflect on the sacrifices made, there are hopes for peace and many comparisons are made with conflicts today. It was a moment for people to pause and a fitting tribute.
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.