Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Remembrance Sunday

I've not attended many of these services since leaving the Army twenty years ago.

The truth is that not being a Christian, the religious aspect of the service has always put me off. I find it hypocrytical to my own beliefs as a Buddhist to stand there and pray to something I don't believe in.

This Remembrance Sunday of course, was somewhat different as I was in the Falklands. So I attended the service at Stanley Cathedral. Along with all the other veterans, we formed up and marched to the church. Hence, by the time we got there quite a few of the seats had been taken. This mean't that probably half of us where forced to watch the service on a TV, in a hall in the building next door. This wasn't a problem and along with the others I watched the service take place.

It followed the normal course of a few hymns, a reading, some prayers, reciting the 'Roll of Honour', and a surmon. What wasn't on the agenda, was for one of the veterans who march up to the front of the church and took over the service. You could see the anxious glances from the Vicar as he wondered what was going to be said. In fact everyone was straining to hear what Gus Hales of 9 Para RE had to say.

He had written a poem which, after apologising for interrupting the proceedings, he began to read.


By Gus Hales

Every year on Remembrance Sunday
I sit in the corner of the British Legion Bar,
Dressed in blazer, shirt, Regimental tie
And polished shoes, with my head held high.

But deep in my mind, where nobody goes,
I see a wooden cross where the wind of victory lies.
“Three Cheers for Victory,” I hear the politician say.
But you never asked me about my victory.
And, if they did, I would have explained it this way:

It isn’t your flags or emblems of war,
Or the marching of troops past the Palace’s door.
It isn’t Mrs. Thatcher on the balcony high,
Reaffirming her pledge to serve or die.
But it’s the look and the pain on a teenager’s face
As he dies for his country, In a far off place.

It’s the guns and the shells and the Phosphorus grenades
And the wounded and the dead in freshly cut graves
Or the grieving wife or the fatherless child
Whose young, tender life will be forever defiled.

Or the alcoholic soldier with a shattered mind
Who takes the suicide option for some peace to find.
Well, that’s my victory but no one knows
For its deep in my mind where nobody goes.

Gus then strode back to his place, to thunderous applause from almost all those who were there.
I say almost all, because I couldn't see the whole of the first two rows of dignatories. But from where I was looking, a few certainly seemed to have been somewhat taken aback.

Here was a Rememberance Parade being held in the Falklands on the 25th anniversary, being attended by two hundred and fifty veterans, as well as numerous islanders, all of whom had been there during the War. Dozens were suffering some sort of physical or mental injury, and at this point hardly any mention had been made of their War. It was if they were following a script that they delivered as the 'standard Remembrance Day Speech' every year. Gus getting up, had highlighted the suffering and the sacrifice very poignantly. His was the voice that called out to be heard.

Sad to say, the Vicar then went on to make a Sermon that completely failed in my opinion to highlight the Falklands War or the 25th Anniversary adequately. When he became involved in speaking about internal church politics, I think he missed the importance of the opportunity to say something very profound and neccesary on such an incredibly important occasion.

Gus's eulogy to the dead and suffering, so exactly illustrated the feelings of so very many of us and was so perfectly delivered.

Well done Gus!


Anonymous said...

Whoever you are Gus.. that is one of the most awesome poems I have ever heard. You should think about writing. You obviously have heart filled with things to say. I for one, would love to read what you write. That poem is so ..meaningful and so justified profound. The dead and the suffering are there so sharp and clear in those words you wrote and spoke.

Steve's wife, Susie

HydraJoe said...


You should read some of the poetry that is on The Poetry Forum of the SAMA Discussion Board. It is on the Members Only Board but Steve has access to that.


It was a pleasure to be part of the Pilgrimage while in the Islands although I was there privately. You have obviously retraced your steps many times during the pilgrimage as is evident from your brilliant blog. I am sure you and your colleagues have benefited enormously from that. However, I do hope you will return to the Islands and visit some of the other memorials and places dedicated to other Army and Naval Units that are scattered over the Islands, to complete the picture in your mind. That is what I have done on subsequent visits since 1982. I was on the 2K2 Pilgrimage and was a bit overwhelmed by it all (even though I had been in the Islands for 9 months in 86 / 87) and didnt really know what I wanted to see or do, so did very little - so I was pleased to spend two weeks there this time with my wife making sure I visited as many of the Memorials and Islands and to see as much of the wildlife that I could fit in. The trips we took to Pebble and Sealion Islands to see the wildlife and visit the HMS Coventry and HMS Sheffield memorials were really special and not because I am ex RN. I did however have personal friends that lost their lives in both ships. I am already planning to go back again next year as there are still places and memorials that I have not yet visited.

Hope to see you at some of the SAMA Events next year, in particular the AGM and Reunion weekend in the Maritime Club, Portsmouth 4th - 7th April 2008. Print the forms off from the main SAMA Website, 2008 Reunion page. This is the Ideal place for you and your SG comrades to meet up again for a weekend with fellow veterans.

Kind Regards


"Joe" Erskine
CPO HMS Hydra 1982
SAMA (82) - Executive Committee