Armistice service remembers civilians as well as soldiers among war dead

By staff writers
November 11, 2009

A special Armistice Day service at Westminster Abbey on 11 November, attended by the Queen and leading public figures, remembered the civilians who have died in war as well as soldiers, following calls for change in Remembrance ceremonies.

The service also had a particular focus on the last three World War One veterans to die. 2009 is the first year that the Remembrance events have been held without any WW1 survivors present.

Harry Patch, 'the last Tommy' was deeply critical of the way remembrance traditions have evolved in Britain. He said he regarded Remembrance Day as “just show business”, insisted that World War One “wasn't worth it” and was well over a hundred when he embarrassed the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair by telling him not to invade Iraq.

The government has worked hard to turn 2009 remembrance activities into a show of support for its military policy in Afghanistan, but a BBC commissioned opinion poll at the beginning of the week showed growing public opposition to the war there.

Though the service in Westminster Abbey was surrounded by military pageant and affirmation, observers say that specific reference to civilian dead is part of a gradual change of emphasis.

No records are kept of civilians who have died in wars in which Britain has been involved. In Iraq alone, it is estimated that between 200,000 and one million people have died following the US and British led invasion in March 2003.

In Afghanistan, 233 British soldiers have died since 2001, but the number of others - including Afghanis - who have lost their lives runs into tens of thousands and critics say that the war has strengthened rather than destabilised the Taliban as well as helping to forge their links to Al Qaeda.

In a new Com Res opinion poll which has been reported in some areas of the press but ignored by the BBC, 87 per cent of the population say that the deaths of those who fought against Britain should be marked alongside the British dead in remembrance ceremonies.

Ninety-three per cent say they believe that contrary to existing remembrance traditions, civilians who died in war should also be remembered.

Ninety-five per cent say they think the main message of Remembrance Sunday should be one of peace.

When asked about the current war in Afghanistan, 53 per cent say they feel that politicians' treatment of people in the Armed Forces there goes against the lessons of Remembrance Day.

The results from the survey, commissioned by Ekklesia, come alongside the publication of a report by the think-tank which suggests that Remembrance Sunday should be 'reimagined' to take account of changing views of war.

Also on Ekklesia: 'We won't forget you, Harry Patch', by Symon Hill:

More on remembrance from Ekklesia:

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