I got up at 6 this morning to check the sky, it was cloudy. Had it been clear I would have set off to walk across the still dark city to be at the war memorial for sunrise just after 7. Leicester's war memorial is solar aligned with the rising sun, the odds of it being a clear morning are not great (once in the decade or so that I've known this) but the privacy of a November sunrise makes thin places even out of city parks.
When I was a child the First World War was still held within living memory, but it was as a distant part of long lives that had seen many other things since. Now that living memory has gone the way we remember seems fundamentally different too, a handful of images, lines of poetry, stark casualty figures, and increasingly poignant art installations.
But I keep coming back to our war memorial. A handsome arch designed by Lutyens, some of the men who worked on it would have been veterans, all of them would have known people who didn't come back, or who came back damaged. That solar alignment feels like a gift to them, a prayer for hope, and a better future, a promise that the memories remain. It certainly seems better to me to remember at the coming up of the sun, rather than it's going down.
I'm not sure about tacking on some book recommendations at the end of this - but books are one of the things that build a bridge between us, and those who experienced this anniversary that we're marking with such ceremony.
There's Dorothy L. Sayers who chose to make her detectives shell shock a fundamental part of him. 'The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club' takes place during the armistice parade. Written in 1928 her ambivalence to remembrance seems vaguely shocking now. I think it's one of her better books, and for something that's ostensibly light entertainment there's a lot to contemplate in it.
Lyn Macdonald published a series of books in the 80's that took letters and eye witness accounts from the First World War and arranged them into a narrative history of the major battles. 'The Roses of No Man's Land' concentrates on the experience of volunteer nurses. These books are heart wrenching and shocking in turn. It's 20 years since I read them but I still remember the emotional wreck they made of me. Still, they're worth reading to understand something of what the day to day experience was.
And then there's John Jackson's 'Private 12768'. John Jackson's memoir was published posthumously, and is fairly unique in that his memories of the war, whilst not romanticised, are generally positive. The great adventure of his life. It's not a fashionable point of view, but it must have been the experience of many who fought and it's important to remember that as well.