One of my primary school friends acquired the nickname ‘Dead Danny’. He had a habit of prefixing things with the adjective ‘dead’. Sums, for example, were ‘dead boring’ whereas P.E. was ‘dead good.’ Barley Twists were ‘dead cheap’ but fags were ‘dead expensive’, so his Dad said. One day our class was shown around the local church by the vicar. Out in the churchyard we came across a grave dating back to the eighteenth century. ‘Blimey’, said Danny, ‘look at this one. He’s dead dead!’
Remembrance Sunday always brings Danny’s silly phrase to my mind. It’s obviously a day for recalling the dead, not of the eighteenth century but of the twentieth and now the twenty-first. This year, of course, Remembrance Sunday coincides with the centenary of the original Armistice Day, so the fallen of the First World War will be at the forefront of our minds. But whether they were gunned down at the Somme, or shot down over Germany, or torpedoed on an Arctic convoy, or killed in action in Burma, The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan or Iraq, they are all dead dead. Some of them would certainly still be alive if they hadn’t bravely served their country when the need arose. If it hadn’t been for the courage of the men and women in the Armed and Merchant services, life for the rest of us would have been very different, or even dead different.
Those who surrendered their own lives undoubtedly saved the lives of others. The debt of gratitude we still owe them is beyond reckoning. The very least we should do is to consciously and ceremoniously remember their sacrifice once a year.
The whole nation no longer comes to what Danny would call a dead stop at 11am on November 11th, but many people will be gathering at War Memorials and in churches to lay wreaths of poppies to honour the fallen, and possibly to hear their names read out so that each individual sacrifice is recalled. Still others will be observing that two minutes silence, wherever they happen to be, to remember those who gave their all in the defence of freedom. We must never allow these dead dead to become the dead forgotten.