There they stand, a lonely but proud little company now, living on the memories of a past long gone. Their numbers are fewer, as they gather each year to remember those comrades who will forever stay young, while they the survivors, age and weary.
Pride shines in the lined faces of these men and women, pride in the fact that they did their bit when it was called for, that they stood, with their comrades, against a common foe. But it is a pride laced with sorrow as they gaze up at the list of names before them, set in bronze on the cold grey granite of the obelisk, surmounted by a beautifully carved soldier in full fighting gear. His World War I uniform is old-fashioned even to the group of second war veterans before him, but his message is clear as he stands, head held high, and rifle at the ready.
Although this small band, tightly knit and shoulder-to-shoulder, as they were so many years ago, may in this one moment seem lonely and forlorn, this would be a false image. For all around them stand ranks of ordinary people, some much too young to have any recollection of the devastation that is being remembered, watching the group with affection and pride.
Others obviously do remember. They remember fathers, brothers and uncles who never returned, tears pooling just within sad eyes and sharply drawn breaths with perhaps just a hint of a quiver or a sigh.
The last post wails its mournful cry, echoing eerily down the quiet street and back again, while 15 small, grey figures snap smartly to attention. Medals jangle on swelling breasts and boots scrape unmusically on rough black tarmac, as four young soldiers, modern defenders of our way of life, produce a smart salute, their present-arms accomplished with weapons and drill movements unfamiliar to the old brigade standing before them.
In their day it was the .303 calibre Lee-Enfield, solid and reliable, a weapon that looked like a weapon, very unlike the small black objects used by the warriors of today, bristling with switches and buttons, but disturbingly short in the barrel. As the familiar notes play on, a complete silence descends on the watching crowd. Even a little baby, curled in its mothers arm, which had until now been whimpering spasmodically, hungry for an overdue meal, seems to be aware of the importance of the moment and becomes quiet.
A gentle breeze suddenly springs up, rustling the leaves on the surrounding trees and making the freshly laid flowers at the base of the obelisk dance and twinkle in the spring morning sunshine. Women’s dresses stir too in the warm air, and a sheet of newspaper comes dancing down the road, as if wanting to join in the moving occasion, only to be trapped against one of the railing posts surrounding the group, where it flaps helplessly, trying to escape.
The last notes of the bugle drift away on the morning breeze and shoulders noticeably relax, eyes lose their proud glow and shoes mutter on gravel as feet move restlessly. Faces turn towards each other and a soft murmur of voices takes over where the music stops, demonstrating relief that once again the ceremony has gone well, as it unfailingly does, every November.
Then it is over and the people disperse, old soldiers and children, wives and brothers, uncles and sisters all mingling as one, wondering how many of that little band of ex-servicemen and women will be there again next year, their medals still bright, their memories and their pride still strong, even as their eyes grow dim.
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