Remembrance Sunday Address 2019
Remembrance Sunday Address 2019
Lieutenant Rosie Wild OD
A few weeks ago I received a phone call from an unknown number; I answered the phone to a South African voice saying "hello Rosie, guess who?", and I was confused. I definitely knew this voice, but I hadn’t heard it in over nine years - it was only Miss Conidaris!
It didn’t take long for the memories to flood back - this same voice had shouted at me for seven years to sprint up the right wing for a hockey ball, or to move my feet around for a tennis shot, or, more commonly than I want to admit, threatened me with extra prep if I didn’t stop being so disruptive in lessons.
Nine years later and the memories came back fresh and like new. Nine years later and the legacy of my time here and the legacy of my year group is still fresh in the walls of the Memorial Hall, and the legacy of Dauntsey’s, its staff and its pupils is still deeply rooted in every one of us that ever grew up here behind those big green doors.
How can it be that nine years is such a long time, and yet nine years feels like it has passed in just a few months? But that’s the thing about time, it is such an unpredictable and indefinite thing. There is so much time in our lives, there is so much time in the world, and yet time is also one of the most restricting things in life. Sometimes it feels infinite, but so often limited. In the Army we call it a ‘freedom’ and a ‘constraint’. Time can be created and gifted and stretched, but it can also so easily be lost or stolen or cut short. Time is all around us- it is everything that we did before, everything we are doing now, and everything that we will do; time is what creates and preserves the memories and history of lives- the legacy. Time created my memories of Dauntsey’s, time will create the future lives of the pupils here, but today it is worth noting that it is time that preserves the memory of the soldiers who have given their lives, not only in the two World Wars, but in more recent conflicts and current operations.
The concept of time, and legacy is so interesting and important, because it delves into where we have come from as individuals and as a country, as humankind.
There is this fundamental Maori spiritual concept, called Whakapapa. It is to do with ancestry, history and tradition and is demonstrated as a long unbroken chain of humans standing arm in arm from the beginning of time to the end of eternity. There is a sun, and it slowly moves along this chain of people, and shines for a fleeting moment on a particular person’s moment in history. The sun eventually passes by and rises on the next generation, leaving just the memory in the shade of those it once shone on; and this memory is their legacy.
It signifies the interdependence of everything called ‘mana’- all that is, all that has come before, all that will ever be. This is not dissimilar the Christian doxology Glori Patri ‘As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be… world without end”
So, now as we stand here, the sun is shining on us in this moment and our lives, and we are still connected with those who came before and those who will still come. Many of you are sat in a place that I was sat in ten years ago, and ten years ago I was sat in a place that Captain Seaward and Lieutenant Ingram had been, before the Second World War, and they in turn were in the place where Lieutenant O’Reilly or Lieutenant Greenwood might have been sat before the Great War. Whakapapa links all people, across all epochs of time, interconnecting everyone’s past, present, future and legacy.
Now this concept came to light when James Kerr wrote about the core values of the All Blacks rugby team. They encapsulate that Maori concept and the significance of legacy with the phrase ‘leave the jersey in a better place’. They believe that you do not own the rugby jersey when you play in it; you merely receive it from your predecessors, and then preserve it for the next generation of players. The jersey is a relic of the All Blacks legacy.
Every day at work I lace a pair of boots once worn by a soldier in conflict, I button up the shirt once worn by a young man wounded in action, and I wear the beret once worn by a commander leading his men into a devastating battle. Yes, my boots are now made of more robust materials, and my shirt is much lighter and much more practical, but it is still the uniform of the British Army, steeped in the same history and significance; it doesn’t matter who is wearing it.
I have lunch with a Lieutenant who could have been at the Somme, I train a Bombardier who could have been at Normandy beach, I am told off by a Sergeant Major who could have been in Helmand Province. I preserve this uniform which is imbued with the sacrifices its previous custodians made, knowing that if I am asked to do the same, the uniform would guide me. It is my privilege to preserve the uniform of those who served before me, and leave it in a better place it for those who will serve in the future.
But it is the same for you. Every day in school you wear the same school uniform that I wore when I was here, and I wore the same school uniform that those before me had worn. In fact, we all have sported the same uniform worn by the Dauntsey’s pupils who gave their lives in service of their country. Yes the uniform design has changed, you no longer wear knee high socks and knitted sweater vests and the brown uniform turned blue in 2003, but it is still the uniform of a Dauntsey’s pupil and the tradition, history and significance it holds remains unconditionally the same. It is your honour and privilege, whilst the sun is shining on you, to preserve the uniform worn by those who came before, and leave it in a better place for those to come.
So today I ask you to commemorate those who attended Dauntsey’s School, and whose honourable names are inscribed on the wall outside. Their interminable legacy is what should drive us all in our education or training, our personal and professional development and our commitment to ‘leave the uniform in a better place’.
But I also ask you to remember those who have given their lives in all recent and current conflicts. Dying in service of your country is not a thing of history books and war films, it is ubiquitous, it is still happening. The world is unpredictable and unstable, peace is fragile and conflict is volatile. Hostilities are no longer contested in straight lines on a battlefield by fighting age males- we shall no longer just fight them on the beaches or fight them on the hills. Threats are no longer restricted to weapon systems and manpower, but now they are intertwined with everyone’s lives and affect us all. Social media, cyber warfare, global warming, obesity, sugar, meat, depression, anxiety, suicide, domestic violence, Brexit, Johnson, Corbyn, Putin, Trump- there are threats and problems we face that our ancestors couldn’t predict.
You may not need to be wearing Army uniform to have a part to play in serving your country and improving the world for the next generation. Whatever uniform you do wear, you are still preserving values and creating a legacy that will pass on to the those on whom the sun will shine on next.
Please, be a good ancestor, forge your legacy, preserve the uniform, and leave it in a better place.
If a service of Remembrance makes you reflect on anything, it should be that a legacy is the reason why we say ‘for our tomorrow, they gave their today’.