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LEST WE FORGET - Part Two


By Mike Umbers



During the Great War bereaved families received a Scroll:


‘He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who at the call of King and Country left all that was dear to them, endured hardship, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten.’


I spotted an example of this finely phrased text, framed, at Petworth – poignantly, on the wall of the night-nursery above a child’s cot. The lessons of war are to be learnt in its wake, when those who mourn, and those who do not die, the wounded in mind or body, continue to pay the price for our failure to find an alternative to war.


The Cenotaph was unveiled for a second time, in November 1946, by King George VI, after the addition of the dates of the Second World War, and the names of Hythe’s dead from that War were added to our Memorial. In addition, another ceremony takes place that day, inside the Town Hall, when a wreath is placed on the original Gilbert Bayes figure of Victory recovered from the Canal after being vandalised: ‘In memory of those in the armed forces who suffered or died in the many conflicts since World War Two – in gratitude.’


At the start of WW2 the cry went up ‘Where are our Rupert Brooks, our Siegfried Sassoons?’ (No one cried ‘Where are our Kitcheners or Haigs?’ by the way!).


One poet of the 1930’s and ’40’s, though not a front- line soldier, was C.Day Lewis; his bitter lines seem right for this time (it was after 9/11) when Millennium hopes for a new age have been cruelly dashed:


Will it be so again

That the brave, the gifted, are lost from view?

And empty scheming men

Are left in peace, their lunatic age to renew?

Will it be so again?


A touching service took place at the United Reformed Church on 8th November 2004. The WW1 Memorial (just outside the door under the canopy) once stood inside the now demolished Congregational Church in the High Street, where it survived WW2 bomb damage, but it has been looking shabby. Now it is cleaned and refurbished (courtesy of Chittenden’s) and the Rev’d Alan Seymour read out the 14 names it commemorates. Interestingly, 7 of these also appear on the Roll of Honour in (the former) St Leonard’s School, and all 7 names on the Scout Memorial in St Leonard’s Church also appear on that School Roll, which lists 79 names in all – from just one School in one war! Each one of these young men was a tragic loss to his family; but think, too, of the agony of their teachers as the lists went up, able to put a merry little face to every name, and feeling their life’s labours leeching away on Flanders Fields.


SUNDAY JULY 10th 2005. On this day the Nation celebrated the ending of World War 2, 60 years before. In Hythe, the Royal British Legion organised a March from The Green to the War Memorial for a Service of Thanksgiving; the first wreath was placed by a veteran, the second by a war widow. Veterans marched, supported by uniformed groups, schoolchildren, and numerous local organisations. After the march back to The Green came a Parachute Drop by the Freefall Team of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment – the modem Professionals demonstrating their fine skills. ‘When I did that, they were firing machine guns up at us,’ said a watching Veteran. The Band of the Air Training Corps played, showing not all young people spend their leisure hours destroying playgrounds and spraying graffiti. Afterwards was lunch in the Legion Club, the Conservative Club, or the Community School, a Band Concert in Oaklands, and a second stirring Concert in St Leonard’s Church by the Band of The Royal Yeomanry, at which unexpectedly, LOUDLY, and appropriately, we sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, in defiance of the terrorist bombers who had just attacked London.


It was not easy to think of the Hythe of 1945, de-populated and bomb-scarred, mines at sea, and the beach lined with wire and tank-traps, but we guess many present had memories stirred. If you remember the Squanderbug, the Utility Mark, and an Anderson Shelter in the garden, if sight of a Ration Book and an ARP Badge make you shiver a little, if your Mother, her face set, pushed you on to a train with a label pinned to your coat and a gas mask in a cardboard box round your neck, this was your chance to give thanks to those who won the War. How far away that world seems! Older children followed the war with pins on a map, 6th formers ‘fire- watched’ from the School roof, younger ones marched in a crocodile from classroom to shelter, to the wail of the sirens, and looked out for spies, but all this was exciting rather than fearful, for we were protected from the anxieties of our elders, and it is to those elders, whether they fought or stayed at home, whether their war-work was in Arctic Convoy or Coal-mine, Home Guard or Land Army, Code- breaking or pushing a tea wagon along a soldiers’ train, taking in Refugees or caring for Evacuees... ‘Churchill’s Unknown Warriors’ - to all of these we said Thank You on 10th July 2005.


One of the displays in the John Button Room in the Town Library is a Certificate under a highly coloured Royal Coat of Arms, signed by King George VI; it was addressed to those who had been schoolchildren throughout the War all of whom received a copy. The part we played was small enough, but even we were not forgotten:


‘You have shared in the hardships and dangers of total war, and you have shared no less in the triumph of the Allied nations.. .you will always feel proud to belong to a country which was capable of such a supreme effort; proud too of parents and elder brothers and sisters, who by their courage, endurance, and enterprise brought Victory.’


Proud, and thankful.


Battle of Britain Day (15th September), unlike Remembrance Day, isn’t always in our diary, but some of our members remember watching the dog-fights which took place in the skies over Kent nearly 70 years ago. This decisive Battle of 1940 is remembered annually by the RAF Association members, at the War Memorial, and a Silence kept, by the few survivors of the Few, who parade with onlookers for a short service taken by the Rev’d Desmond Sampson, the Branch Chaplain..


Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined

The tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds.


This is from Magee’s poem, ‘The Airman’s Ecstasy’ and it shows the dramatic and romantic side of flying, but the RAF is also about maintenance and administration and unglamorous support services, and it is the effort of the Team which wins battles. In 1940 it was not ecstasy in the front of the young pilot’s thoughts, but the reality expressed by WB Yeats:


I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above,


And many did just that. So the Hymn Desmond chose for Sunday’s Remembrance was both celebration and epitaph:


Serving the God they love amidst

The glories of the sky.


And many did just that. So the Hymn Desmond chose for Sunday’s Remembrance was both celebration and epitaph:


Serving the God they love amidst

The glories of the sky.


Photograph from the War Memorial Trust


The End

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