I walked over to the Cenotaph yesterday to look at the various wreaths that had been laid on Sunday. It was quite a moving experience, many others were there, older couples in the main but several individuals. They were pointing out some of the messages to one another, noting the logos on wreaths, commenting and in some cases clearly sharing memories. Some were apparently, and inevitably, reflecting on lost friends and colleagues.
The Royal and government wreaths remain on the Trafalgar Square side of the Cenotaph with the individual services and the Royal British Legion wreaths on the Ministry of Defence side. The bulk of the wreaths are laid out on the Parliament Square side, covering a portion of the road. Many of these are from individual regimental associations, ships, service associations and charities.
What was odd for me was the Foreign Office side of the Cenotaph, the lower step was quite empty. There were clearly chalk marks on the step where wreaths should be, along with three wreaths and a poppy cross. A closer look revealed that those four were from various elements of the National Front.
Personally I find it quite distasteful to have those wreaths there, but we do live in a democratic society so they have as much right as anyone to have them there. It’s an organisation whose principles are the antithesis of military service; exclusionary, divisive and fearful. They seem unable to recognize difference and prefer instead to repress individuality, something the electorate think the services want to do, although in practice our strength lies in acommodating and encouraging individuals.
Servicemen give up many of the freedoms that the electorate take for granted, placing themselves in the way of harm in defence of our society. Organisations like the National Front undermine that, taking away the freedoms that servicemen protect, and damaging the society they remove themselves from.
It leads me to wonder if any of those missing wreaths were removed in response to the placement by the National Front. Personally I don’t see that as the best approach, surrounding them and demonstrating the breadth of the military experience does more to discredit them than anything else.
All that said, what did raise a wry smile was the placement of the Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Association on the step immediately above them.