Thinking about Armed Forces Day, veterans, and The Cenotaph

It’s Armed Forces Day this coming Saturday. Sadly there’ll be no outdoor events for us to attend. As with everthing else nowdays, celebration events will be online.

I wonder if there will be armed forces veterans at The Cenotaph to ensure nothing untoward happens to it. Talking about veterans, our local veterans help group has changed its name to Veterans & Familes – Listening Project, same focus on helping to improve the day to day lives of veterans and families, now with a wider reach than just Surrey Heath.

Now, a dreadful admission from me about my knowledge of the Cenotaph. I didn’t know the word ‘cenotaph’ derives from the Greek for ‘empty tomb’. The Cenotaph has a closed empty tomb at the top  surmounted with a large laurel wreath.

With the decision not to repatriate the war dead of World War 1, and to bury them close to where they fell, a national memorial was needed as a focal point to the nations’s commemoration of those killed and affected by war. Hence the Cenotaph, designedby Sir Edwin Lutyens. English Heritage, who look after the memorial, say of its design,

Lutyens’s austere and dignified design for the Cenotaph rejected imagery, bombast and religious symbolism. Its timeless, non-denominational form has ensured its relevance to all the dead of the Empire and to audiences ever since. Its message was one of the universality of grief and the human cost of victory.

The memorial is regularly cleaned, and every 10-15years goes through a period of conservation. A feature of Lutyens design is that it does not shed water well at its top, resulting in the empty tomb and wreath becoming saturated with water, attracting biological growth. The Cenotaph was last given a renovation in 2013, such that the Portland stone at the top is now of a light colour.

Here are a couple of historic photos, and a couple more recent ones, where the difference after conservation can be clearly seen.

The Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in 2010.

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