The young and the old

My school in South Africa has a gray stone war memorial that is full of engraved names of the old boys who died in the First and Second World War. 

The war memorial guards a grassy quad where the school gathers every year for the November 11th Memorial Service.  

At the end of the service, the headmaster reads the famous and sad verse from Laurence Binyon’s The Fallen:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

Everyone then repeats the final line: We will remember them.

Then there is silence. Nobody speaks, nobody moves. It’s an eerie feeling and a stark contrast to the energy and noise of a busy all boys school. Then deep down from within the hallways one of the senior pupils plays the last post and reveille. The long corridors and empty classrooms with wooden desks make it seem like the music is coming from the walls and rafters.

There’s something about a quad full of young boys speaking in unison and recognizing their fellow students from another era that hits home. I think it’s a reminder that so many young men, just like the boys standing in the quad, answered the call and left the safety of countries like South Africa, the United States, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, and Canada to fight and die in a war thousands of miles away. The ceremony moves old veterans who are present and young boys who have no idea what is to come.