Remembrance Day: How will WE be remembered?
This morning Christopher Wood, HM Consul-General of the UK in Shanghai, joined the Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi community to remember the men and women who lost their lives in service of their country during times of conflict. The tradition of Remembrance Day was introduced in 1919 to honour the millions of soldiers who lost their lives in World War I (1914-1918). Remembrance Day is particularly poignant for Dulwich College. Over 3000 Old Alleynians fought in World War I. Tragically 530 of these young men died. Indeed, 9 Old Alleynians fell on a single day in a battle on 25th September 1915. It’s sobering to reflect upon the profound sense of loss that must have been felt by the Dulwich community at that time. To find out more about Dulwich College and World War I, please visit https://dulwichcollege1914-18.co.uk
I’m sometimes asked why we make a point of remembering soldiers who died over a hundred years ago on the other side of the world. What’s the relevance for our students here in Shanghai in 2020? I believe there are compelling reasons why this tradition is not only appropriate but essential for our students’ education.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we are living in a time of peace and prosperity. We are blessed to be in Shanghai. It is a safe and satisfying place to live. It is difficult to comprehend the horrors of war and the impact of conflict on individuals, families and communities. Yet a visit to the nearby Memorial for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre is a chilling reminder that this has not always been the case. Shanghai and the surrounding area has experienced the brutality of war at its very worst. We must learn from this. Remembering the lives of the millions of men and women who have died in conflicts helps ensure that we don’t take peace and prosperity for granted.
Remembrance Day reinforces the importance of service. The soldiers who died during the world wars were serving their country. They served to protect their loved ones and their communities. Service is about doing something for others. It recognises that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. This mindset is important for creating better communities and ultimately a better world. It is integral to being a global citizen. Our students understand that they have a responsibility to contribute to College life and the wider community. We encourage them to get involved in service learning; from supporting Veal Reyoung, our United World Schools partner school in rural Cambodia, to beach cleaning here in Shanghai. We believe that they will be benefit from this. People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. We also believe that it is the right thing to do. If enough people are committed to making the world a better place, future generations of young men and women may not need to serve their country by fighting and losing their lives.
Remembrance Day also invites reflection on the theme of sacrifice. The Oxford English Dictionary defines sacrifice as: giving up a valued thing for the sake of something else that is more important. The soldiers who died in the world wars gave their lives, the ultimate sacrifice, in service of their country. They wanted to ensure a brighter future for their friends and families. The famous Kohima Epitaph captures this powerfully: We Gave Our Today’s for Their Tomorrows. Reflection on sacrifice is timely. Millions of people across the world have made sacrifices during COVID-19. Why? Because the individual acts of wearing a mask, going into lockdown and working/learning from home all contribute to the greater good. These short-term sacrifices have helped ensure the collective health of our communities. Those societies which have struggled to come to terms with this continue to experience a rise in COVID-19 cases. There are real parallels with climate change. The world is facing an environmental catastrophe far more serious than COVID-19. As Prince Charles states:
The good news is that we have the power to make a difference by changing our lifestyle:
- Reducing our use of plastics
- Reducing our consumption of meat
- Reducing reducing our carbon footprint
- Increasing our use of renewable energy
- Increasing our use of sustainable farming
Making these changes will undoubtedly involve individual and collective sacrifices. Living more sustainably isn’t easy. But when we really think about it, this is nothing compared to the sacrifices made by those young soldiers over a hundred years ago. They died for our tomorrow. We owe it to them to learn from their example. We face a different threat but one that has far reaching implications for the future of our world. They are remembered with honour. How will we be remembered? We must change our today to secure our children’s and grandchildren’s tomorrow.