“We WILL remember them”

9

These words remain strong and true 100 years after the end of The Great War, 1914-1918. They are words taken from a poem published in The Times Newspaper on the 21st of September, 1914 entitled ‘For the Fallen’ and written by Robert Laurence Binyon. Perhaps the most famous of excerpts is as follows:

“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.”

Many members of my own family have served in the Armed Forces, including my mother, father and brother. Helping others who have served, as well as their families, is something which I am honoured to be able to do. Even if it’s in the smallest of ways, such as purchasing poppy keepsakes, making donations and raising awareness, we can all make a difference. QVC are incredibly proud to have raised over £1.7 million for the Royal British Legion since our partnership began in 2010. We couldn’t do it without your support.

You can help by purchasing items from our Poppy Collection. Kate Green, who is our special guest supporting the Poppy Collection hours, is a former Royal Military Policewoman. Kate is currently the Area Manager for the Royal British Legion in East Anglia helping to raise the profile of the work of the Royal British Legion to ensure that ex-servicemen and women who are less fortunate are able to live independently, have a voice where it matters, support when needed and to spread the word about the range of services the Legion helps provide.

Kate and I will be presenting an hour together live on the QVC Extra Channel (Sky 673 and Freesat 802) at 5pm on the 21st of August. That’s next Tuesday. Please make a date in your diary. We will be discussing our recent trip to Ypres, Belgium, for “The Great Pilgrimage 90 Parade and 100 Days Ceremony”.

A decade after the end of WW1, the British Legion (as it was then known) organised for veterans and war widows to visit the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres before marching to the Menin Gate in Ypres on 8th August 1928. Exactly 90 years later, thousands of Legion representatives recreated the 1928 Battlefields Pilgrimage and visited the same battlefields and then, on 8th August 2018, paraded their branch standard and a wreath along the same route to the Menin Gate for the One Hundred Days ceremony to commemorate the last 100 days of WW1 and represented an entire generation that served while defending their country.

I was truly touched to be invited to attend with Kate and other members of the Legion as well as other guests. We had a very early start on the Wednesday so we all stayed at the Union Jack Club, a military members-only hotel in London, the night before. This was great as it gave us the opportunity to get to know each other a little over dinner and drinks. They even catered for me being vegan, Kate is also vegan as she suffers from M.S. and has found that a plant-based diet has greatly helped her condition. There was a very warm and welcoming atmosphere as well as a greatly diverse group of us all coming together to share a moment of history.

4am, my alarm went off. I’m sure it was no louder than it ever is but, at that time of day, it felt deafening. We all met in reception and headed off to catch the Eurostar to Lille where we would be met by more Legion members who directed us to waiting coaches which would then take us, with motorcycle police escorts, to Ypres. Here is a photo of Kate and I in London King’s Cross St. Pancras under the neon pink art installation by Tracey Emin, CBE prior to boarding our train.

We were all smiles yet there was a feeling of apprehension regarding how emotionally overwhelming the forthcoming day’s events would be. We travelled in a small group. Another of the invited guests was Mandy McBain MBE from Stonewall, a charity who campaigns for equality in the workplace for members of the LGBT community. Mandy was in the Naval Service for 25 years and was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list in 2011 for her equality and diverse work both nationally and internationally. Stonewall are delighted to be working with The Royal British Legion as they have joined the Diversity Champions programme. This engagement will provide an excellent framework for the RBL to create a workplace that enables LGBT staff to reach their full potential.

It was very interesting to hear about the experiences of some of those who had served in the forces within the LGBT community and what they had been through prior to the more accepting times we live in today. I could write so much about each of the people I shared the journey with as they were all remarkable but I may just run out of room!

Upon arrival in Ypres we walked the old cobbled streets to Cloth Hall where we were given refreshments. We then walked to the nearby Menin Gate.

A beautiful monument built to honour the memory of the fallen who were without graves. I can’t begin to describe how it felt to see the sheer volume of names etched into the walls. That British ‘stiff upper lip’ certainly did plenty of quivering throughout.

We took our seats as the brightly uniformed band played and the sun shone over what was once bloody battlefields. 90 years previously over 11,000 had travelled the same route to pay their respects and honour the fallen.

Now, 1100 members of the Royal British Legion (many of whom had served time in the Forces, some with very visible scars of war) marched through the Menin Gate proudly bearing the RBL standards. Some appeared quite elderly and frail yet they marched on with dignity and strength in tribute to those lost.

The service was very moving. Words of those who had been in Ypres during the Great War were recited by individuals in service today. This really made it all the more poignant. It’s one thing to see old black and white footage of a time which seems to bear no relation to the world we live in today but is quite another to see, in full living colour, the service men and women bringing to life the reality of what it is for a human being to live through horrors of war.

I doubt there was a single soul left unmoved as the sounding of The Last Post echoed through the monument followed by silence. The only movement to be seen was the falling of thousands of heart shaped poppy petals through the three circular apertures in the ceiling of the Menin Gate. I can barely recall it to mind without tearing up as I type. Each one representing a soul. Each one a somebody. I captured this video but nothing can compare with actually being there. It’s a moment that will live with me forever.

I was astounded to learn that there is a daily ceremony of remembrance held at the Menin Gate between 7-8pm during which traffic is stopped and trumpets sound The Last Post. This truly touched my heart and I hope to return one day to attend this solemn and dignified service. Kate told me about it whilst we were at Cloth Hall prior to the ceremony we attended.

I hope my words have not been too clumsy and can do some justice to what we shared on that day in Ypres. Words can never express the gratitude I have to those who have paid (and continue to pay) the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

This year the Royal British Legion is leading the nation in saying “Thank You” to all who served, sacrificed and changed our world. Their work is encapsulated in its motto: Live On – to the memory of the fallen and the future of the living. The Royal British Legion poppy helps the Legion to provide thousands of veterans, service men and women, and their families, with vital advice and support.

Please help us to assist them in their work by purchasing from The Poppy Collection and visiting their website to find other ways you can say ‘Thank You’.

Love Catherine xx

9 Comments

  1. Teresa Karasavvas August 15, 2018 at 1:41 pm -  Reply

    Catherine thank you for a beautiful post, your words are wonderful and very moving.

    With my thanks to your family and all those who served. We will never forget you.

  2. BARBARA BURROWS August 15, 2018 at 5:14 pm -  Reply

    Dear Catherine,you have written a most moving and eloquent description of your experience and thank you for sharing. Much love xxxx

  3. Matthew Walter August 15, 2018 at 10:20 pm -  Reply

    Excellent journalism, Huntley.

    In my own research I was VERY surprised that one of the World War I’s most enduring legacies is largely forgotten: It sparked the modern gay rights movement.

    Homosexual soldiers who survived the bloodletting returned home convinced their governments owed them something – full citizenship (for inverts – or homosexuals).

    Especially in Germany, where gay rights already had a tenuous footing, they formed new organizations to advocate in public for their rights. Sadly, regimes changed and political attitudes changed and it took decades (after another World War) for decriminalization and even more decades further on for ‘equality’.

    But, thankfully, out of aggression of conflict some hope did shine.

    Amongst others, (homosexual) Wilfred Owen’s poetry was timely and, to this day, endures as it beats louder above the pummeling shells of the battlefield.

  4. Jackie August 15, 2018 at 11:03 pm -  Reply

    Catherine, thank you for an amazing, moving and powerful blog. It must have been a great honour to attend and it is great that you and QVC do so much to support and promote the Royal British Legion.

  5. Josephine Lynne Jennings August 16, 2018 at 3:28 pm -  Reply

    Catherine a wonderful blog , I admit tears are rolling down my face. Members of my family have served and are serving today .

  6. Kelly Heath August 16, 2018 at 8:22 pm -  Reply

    Thank you for such a lovely, touching read. Your words were definitely not clumsy, I think it was a lovely tribute. I bought a beautiful poppy brooch last year and I will definitely be getting something else this year to start a little poppy collection. x

  7. Jan August 17, 2018 at 9:57 am -  Reply

    Hi Catherine, your blog brought a tear to my eye and I wasn’t even at the service, so must have been very emotional to actually be there. Well written and informative.

  8. Tina Meftah August 20, 2018 at 4:00 pm -  Reply

    Catherine, that was beautifully written, very moving. Thank you. x

  9. Margaret August 20, 2018 at 11:36 pm -  Reply

    Well done Catherine, its so very moving to visit the Menin gate I myself was there two years ago with our Royal British Legion and laid a posy of poppies.Members of my family served in both wars and sadly some didn’t come home but they will never be forgotten.Best wishes Margaret x

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