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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

I Remember

There are some times of year when it’s strange to be at home in a country where the national history is different from that of my homeland. In November, two British memorial days fall within days of each other: Guy Fawkes Night (remembering a failed catholic plot in 1605 to assassinate King James I) and today: Armistice Day.

The day of remembrance for soldiers and civilians killed in conflict and war is celebrated in several countries – although Germany remembers its fallen soldiers on a different day – but the Swiss do not mark the day and time on which the ceasefire took effect in 1918. (Whilst the Swiss national history certainly includes hardship and difficult times during the periods of the two World Wars, their position of armed neutrality during both conflicts doesn’t have the same place in the national history of other European countries.)

The traditional two minute silence at 11 a.m. (GMT) on the 11th November every year is something I try to abide by, even though colleagues around me don’t know of the tradition; two minutes of silence in my own mind, whilst the daily grind goes on around me.

The photo accompanying this article was taken in 2007, as Jo and I headed through northern France en route to our wedding. It shows the beauty and stillness of one of the many war memorial cemeteries in the area, which contain the remains of many of those who lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars. I wrote at the time, “Colourful butterflies and bright green lawns make a memorial of so much death quite beautiful in the afternoon sunshine”.

Update: Coincidentally, as I found out later from my father, one of my ancestors is remembered in one of many thousands of inscriptions in this very graveyard.