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We will remember them

By Hannah Wright, Cheltenham Borough Council

We are coming round to the time of year when we pause to think about the men and women who have, and continue to sacrifice so much for their country. The Armistice Day, (or Remembrance Day) two minute silence has occurred each year since 1919 marked the first anniversary of the end of the Great War. A journalist for the Manchester Guardian reported the first moment London fell silent:

“The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect. The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition. Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of 'attention'. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still ... The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain ... And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.”

Last November the Promenade was filled with hundreds of people paying their respects. The biggest turnout in years, I heard some say. Despite the passing of almost 100 years, the two minute silence remains a brief period of great intensity and emotion.

Our thoughts are filled not only with remembering those who have died in conflicts, but also those who are far away, unable to be with their families for many of those precious moments; births, marriages, deaths even. Their families also share these everyday sacrifices, for which we all have the security of arguably the best military forces in the world.

The armed forces covenant, which Gloucestershire councils signed up to in 2011, aims to address some of the disadvantages members of the armed forces and their families face compared to civilian citizens, and to encourage mutual support between civilian and military communities.

Next year, to mark 100 years since the beginning of World War One, the war memorial on the Promenade is being restored, with York stone paving slabs and LED lighting to be installed, along with two plaques to commemorate two Cheltonians who were awarded the Victoria Cross.

The Everyman Theatre is leading an exciting project called ‘Gloucestershire Remembers WW1’, which has received heritage lottery funding and includes a play based on an unpublished novel by local war poet, FW Harvey.

Cheltenham in Bloom have secured a small amount of funding from Cheltenham Borough Council to plant cultivated poppies (which will not seed) at the war memorial and other points in the town.

No doubt 2014 will evoke strong memories in some Cheltonians. Whether we participate in these unobtrusive tributes, or take two minutes to stand and remember, these are our ways of showing our quiet respect and solidarity. Sometimes, when words are not enough, silence speaks volumes.