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11 November 1918 - 'And still, the central faith'


Unexpectedly, Blunden was in England when the Armistice was declared. He had been under orders to return to France but he was prevented that week due to his recurring asthma.

Armistice is a time when families remember their fallen members in many conflicts, not just World War 1. Blunden describes the loss of direction the army then had during the complex task of withdrawing from four years of conflict in France. But not only was it the organisation that had lost direction with the cessation of hostilities, it was many of the men too, who were keen to resume their familiar lives and places.

Blunden would return, as many did, to poignant Battalion reunions on a regular basis. In his pamphlet 'Fall in Ghosts' published in 1932, Blunden pays tribute in his own particular way to the men he served with, who died, and who survived.

This Armistice remembrance in 2018 would be familiar to him. Not because he was physically with the people who survived with him, but because for him, his Battalion transcended the people in it. He writes:

"...many made their true discovery of the Battalion, the large family, to which they had come as not very confident strangers... Wherever you went you saw a friend; if you drifted into the quartermaster's stores out of the line, there was this lively pleasure of welcome and acceptance...called to the snipers in their lair...there would be a cheerful response...Every face and every name was intensely known to you, while that life lasted."

In that phrase 'while life lasted' is the secret of surviving war conditions within the battalion. Whilst soldiers are individuals, they work together in a common endeavour. They share commonalities. 'Some faces seemed destined to go on forever.' Or, asks Blunden, 'was this an illusion?'

For Blunden, his service with the battalion was core to his life experiences. His 'central faith' in his army family is at the heart of Remembrance. It is best left to him to describe it:

"In that dizzy period of dreams, rumours, upheavals, fears, escapades, vanities, immeasurable moments, apprehensions, that which one has gained as a sheltering, steady, warm abiding place in nature become especially precious. At one time it was actual, present, daily and hourly."

He likens the experience to the shadow of 'a great rock in that weary land'. Concluding the paragraph, he describes the ambition of the reunion and its family significance. His description might also help us think about why we, in our own families, remember the fallen each year:

"The odd thing is, I suppose, that a number of us...still cling to our rock; and, without noticing what we are doing, we submerge our individual differences of experience and choice, and the horribly rapid mutations of the war history of an infantry force as a human group. We come together, once a year, without allusion to the details of our own former shares of the history that concerns us, and we re-animate - the battalion. It is our quaint attempt at catching a falling star."

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