Friday, 10th November 2017
Remembrance time is an annual event, of course, and it happens, by a quirk of fate, at one of the most poignant times of year, a moment when the very last signs of the year's beauty are still clinging to the trees and when the winter's cold is beginning to show itself. Somehow it's an emotional time of year, a period when one cannot help but feel moved. While watching our first team play on the meadows two days ago, I was so struck by the intense colours on the trees as the watery sun coloured the buildings in a way that an impressionist could not have emulated. It's a time of ending and a time which shows the world in its most intense and fragile beauty. And so it always seems to me to be the right moment to remember those who have died in wars, generally of course the very young, those with potential and those whose future stretched out before them. For someone with children, as all those parents reading this blog by definition are, this is an almost unabsorbably poignant thought. But to children in school, especially those who like ours are very young, how does one begin to convey this? Should one indeed attempt to do so as the intensity of feelings felt by parents and by adults almost certainly cannot be experienced?
My strong feeling is that it is vital that we do attempt to remember the young men of our school who died in the wars. Even though many will be bemused and almost certainly most will not fully understand the emotions involved (indeed do any of us who have not directly experienced such a loss?) it is vital that our pupils leave the school understanding the stories and forms of our remembrance and it is necessary that they understand from as early an age as possible the fact that we should be doing these things that it is, in the words of the Prayer Book, "meet and right so to do." Societies should be judged, amongst other things, upon the way in which they remember the war dead, how they remember those whose lives were sacrificed in order that we might live in a more peaceful and tolerant world. I feel that it is very important that we equip our pupils with an understanding of how these things are done here, how it is appropriate to act on such occasions. I also believe, quite controversially perhaps, that responses which are appropriate to certain situations, (sometimes indeed emotional responses) can be shaped early on in life. This is a matter which is capable of being abused of course, but equally it is vital that we attempt to influence our charges positively so that they behave, whenever possible, in positive ways – so that they are, for instance, habitually kind, so that they are habitually thoughtful about others. I believe that if we help our pupils to understand why we should try to avoid war in the future, why we should remember those who died in the war, why we should think about people who died one hundred years ago, none of whom are personally known to us (in fact in our case, we know very little about most of the boys who died, sadly – we are trying to do some research to find out more) then we are helping to shape our pupils in a vitally important way. Life is so precious, war is so appalling (even if sometimes sadly necessary) and we will fail our pupils completely if we do not convey this to them. It will not surprise you that in the four years I have been at the school, our pupils have taken the whole thing very seriously, something very much to their credit. If you were not able to attend the act of remembrance in the Cathedral this morning please do ask your sons about the experience. I hope you don't mind my taking this opportunity to list those amongst the boys of our school whom we commemorate every year in early November.