Today is the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11. Today I visited the Runnymede Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial. These two facts are not connected, but they are both associated with the theme of memorials.
The September 11 attacks and World War II are both things that we rightly should remember, and public memorials are an effective and lasting way to do this. People visit memorials to remember those they knew or know of, but also to think and to grasp the destruction events like war can have upon ordinary lives. At the memorial today I walked around the entire cloister and there are 292 panels full of names of 20,000 airmen with no known grave from across the Commonwealth. There are seven thick books detailing the names, ranks and squadrons of the men and women remembered in Runnymede. And these are only the ones without graves. If this does not emphasise the scale of chaos war brought to everyday men and women I do not know what can.
The best school trip I ever went on was to the battlefields in Belgium and France. It was poignant for the number of graves and battlefields we saw, but we also had fun as a group of schoolchildren within this. One of the things everyone did though was look for their surname on the graves and memorials we visited. This was not to find a lost relative particularly, as most surnames are fairly common nowadays, but out of a curiosity and, I guess, to have a sense of purpose for looking over the many names etched into the stone. I did the same thing today: a Carr, L jumped out at me from one of the panels and I lingered there for slightly longer than the others. But he wasn’t a relative, he was one of 15 men immortalised in the stones at Runnymede who shared my surname. Sergeant Lawrence Carr from Durham died 15th January 1943, aged 28, and just because he isn’t a relative doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take notice of the fact that he died. But let’s remember that his is a name written upon a stone with many others and that each of them deserves to be remembered as someone who fought so we don’t have to live through war over European supremacy.
9/11 is a different situation but if you are visiting Ground Zero it is perhaps even more important to remember each and every name memorialised from the Twin Towers attack, not just those who have your surname. They did not die fighting for their country but as innocent victims of terrorism, and their loss is still felt closely by their loved ones and the wider world. In the future there will be no-one left who remembers days of loss and what those people could have been, but their names will live forever in the stone and metal of the memorials across the world, as long as we keep remembering.
To find out more about war graves, please visit http://www.cwgc.org where you are able to search by name, cemetery, war and any other information.