Remembrance Sunday 2008 will be an incidental activity for most residents of this county; in 1958 it was central. Every adult remembered the war and those of us who were born during the war knew about the austerity that followed it. Our grandparents carried memories of the earlier Great War. Most men in their 30s had seen military service and the military way of doing things influenced many areas of life. Businesses would talk of “military efficiency” as an ideal to strive for. Men’s haircuts were still short and the long hair of the 1960s was a reaction against that. Organizations like TocH, founded during the first world war, still had a presence in the town. Ex-army officers tended to carry their rank into civilian life and were known as Captain or Major or Colonel so-and-so. Even Lord Hesketh, one of the local grandees, preferred to be known as Major Hesketh.
This is not to suggest that the miltary dominated people’s lives; obviously everyone got on with life. But it was there in the background. In the week before Remembrance Day past wars came into full focus.
The poppy appeal was very big. Every workplace, school and street corner was organized to raise money. In the week before Poppy Day we were expected to take our pennies for the collection. For sixpence or a shilling you could get to sport a larger poppy. I remember one incident from 1953 when one of my classmates was given a huge poppy with multiple petals and leaves for a penny! All morning he was hugely chuffed with his good fortune until it came to dinner time and all he could find in his pocket was a penny where there shold have been a half-crown.
As I was in the church choir in the early 50s I became an active participant in Remembrance Sunday. The church service began at 10:30 in a packed church, the we would process along Buckingham Street to the Cenotaph in the Square. The other churches also made similar processions. The Square would then be full of active soldiers in uniform, members of the British Legion wearing their medals, veterans of both wars, the town band, church congregations, leading citizens. At 11 am two minutes of silence would be observed, then possibly a hymn and a benediction before the crowd dispersed.
The day concluded with an evening concert in the works canteen. Music was provided by the town band and various musicians assembled into an orchestra. One lady would sing a solo of Abide with me! and others intoned recitations including Lawrence Binyon’s haunting poem:
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.