We shall Remember them.

We shall Remember them.

As the dust settles on the Remembrance season for another year and we lay to rest the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, I have a story of personal struggle and personal triumph to tell.

How did we end up here?

It is 10:50 on Friday November 11th. I have just delivered the second of six sessions I am due to deliver today but already my brain has moved on and is focussing on the next appointment of the day.

When I say focus, I mean a laser sharp, all-encompassing focus on what I am about to deliver.

I am not going to lie to you: I am feeling the pressure. I am about to deliver a one-off, single-take, no second chances, must be perfect first time session.

I am definitely nervous.

Why am I feeling so much strain? Let me take you back in time a little.

Of course I can…

When I made the booking to visit a school on November 10th and 11th, away back in May, I was really excited to be delivering Remembrance sessions to an entire school. I love the opportunity to make an impact and to leave a lasting impression. Talking about Remembrance on Armistice day is just such an opportunity.



Part of the booking was that I would deliver an assembly to the school on both days. No problem, I could do a session teaching drill. It’s a great wee session that works better the more people you have.

Then, a month or so before the visit, the teacher asked me if I would do an assembly on the Thursday and lead the school Remembrance assembly on the Friday.

“Of course I can.”  The enormity of what I had offered hit as soon as I pressed send.

I was offering to lead a service of Remembrance for an entire school. Some things are important. Some things have a very precise, correct way of doing things. Some things you are morally and ethically obliged to get perfectly right. A Remembrance service is all three of these things.

I have attended many services over the years, I have formed up groups of students for the 2 minutes silence, but I had never actually led the service. This was new territory. This is not the time to be hoisted on my own petard.

There is no wriggle room, no chance to improvise. This needs to be perfect. First time. With no notes.

So I set about memorising the order of service. I set about memorising the Exhortation. I set about knowing the whole of the Last Post and I practised my bosun’s call.

All in all it’s a lot to remember. Especially when you slot it into the middle of a day where I had to deliver six sessions about D Day.

Back to the present

So that’s why I’m feeling nervous. I am acutely aware of everywhere my Second World War uniform is not sitting quite right. Every pace it’s digging in. I am abundantly aware of how hot the school is and I am beginning to get sweaty palms.



“I can do this, and I can do it right.”

I walk into the hall to be met by hundreds of small faces and the entire school staff looking at me. Also I am greeted by a Corporal from the REME who has offered to attend the service. I suddenly feel that my battledress is very out of place for this service, but there is no time to change and therefore I must focus and get this right.

Everyone sits down.

The lights go down.

I nod to the teacher with the laptop and the Last Post sounds from the PA.

It takes an eternity to finish.

Deep breath. Commit

“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning:
We shall Remember them.”


Announce the two minutes silence.

Sound the call. Glance at my watch and remember the time.


Think about all the things I ask the children to remember. Think about the people who I talk about in my remembrance sessions. Think about the people I have known who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Glance at my watch.

Sound the call to end the silence.



Now back into my comfort zone

And then finish the service by taking the children through their drill before dismissing them.

They were absolutely brilliant. They managed to be silent and, relatively, still for the whole two minutes. Their drill was perfect.

I have never felt such a wave of relief and pleasure at having successfully completed something.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right, because it was important. It was important to me to make sure I did this properly and it’s important to other people that I did this right.

I’m not kidding myself. Compared to being involved in a conflict, I was risking very little apart from opprobrium. Compared to the fear that soldiers feel going into combat, I felt very little. However, I had done my bit to remember their experiences and to help others remember them. I had treated the occasion with the respect it deserved.

I had done my bit to remember and to keep the memories alive.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Session reports, Uniforms, 0 comments
“Serge cloth is an amazing material”

“Serge cloth is an amazing material”

I never used to get tired of this spiel when working at the museum.

Day in, day out I’d tell children how amazing serge cloth is. It’s all coming back to haunt me now as I sit here typing wearing a uniform made of serge cloth.

To begin at the beginning, serge is a kind of woollen twill cloth commonly used in military uniforms until cotton took over in the latter part of the 20th century. In particular British uniforms of the two world wars were made of serge, but you don’t see it much any more. Which is why I talk about it a lot in classes: it’s a real tactile representation of how different things are now. I believe it’s also a really great way to engage with the difficulties of life as a soldier.

I say serge is amazing with more than a hint of sarcasm but there is a lot to recommend it. It’s hard-wearing and robust: the uniform I use for myself in D Day school sessions is over seventy years old and going strong. It’s remarkably insulating being made of wool. It also looks the business. In fact, it’s the perfect natural material for making military uniforms out of.

It is, however, not without its drawbacks.

Anecdotally, it will absorb several times its own weight in water. So I’m not keen to be standing in the rain for too long wearing it as I know how long it’ll take to dry out. I have absolutely no desire to be taking part in an amphibious landing wearing it. Oh, and it gets really cold when it’s wet too. Double the fun.

The real clincher is that it’s itchy. It’s off the scale tickly next to the skin. Imagine the most tickly of woollen jumpers and you’re in the right ballpark. That’s annoying when you have to put it on in a classroom for five minutes or so, but imagine what it’s like at the end of a long day.

One thing I learned very quickly about living in serge is that your choice of base layer is crucial. Get it right and all the positives of serge come to the fore. Get it wrong and you’re heading for a world of misery. Just look at my face in the main picture: how convinced do I look?

Serge trousers
The old days, with a cotton t shirt underneath. The fireman look?

Which is why, right now, I am putting careful thought into sourcing exactly the right new woollen undershirts for my uniforms. It’s vital for my future comfort that I get this right.

In the Great War that undershirt would be blue/grey flannel, which can be quite nice. In the Second World War it’s a woollen undershirt, so under my D Day woollen uniform I’ll have a woollen shirt. There’s no wonder Tommies looked at the American T shirt with envy. I know I would. It also explains why I used to wear a cotton T shirt under my uniform.

So, when you see me in my uniform in school, spare a thought for how amazing serge cloth is and remember why we don’t use it in the field any more.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Thoughts, Uniforms, 0 comments