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On Wednesday 11th of November Eton College observed Remembrance Day, traditionally the day on which the nation comes together to commemorate all those who have served in defence of our country. Like many events this year, however, tradition and ceremony was adapted to meet social distancing guidelines. Although the commemoration itself occurs at 11:00am on 11th of November, to mark the end of the hostilities of the First World War, a considerable number of the ceremonies and tributes occur on the second Sunday in November, known as ‘Remembrance Sunday’.

This year, both in Eton and the wider world, there has been a significant shift in the tone of Remembrance Day. In a world of social distancing with large gatherings rendered unfeasible, there has been movement away from the pomp and ceremony of the day to a renewed awareness of the individual.

Remembrance Sunday at Eton conventionally sees the whole school (1300 students and over 150 staff) gather in School Yard, the main courtyard of the school, following a reflective service in one of the two chapels. In School Yard, we carry out the Act of Remembrance, including the Exhortation, the Last Post and the two minute silence at the strike of 11:00.

Two years ago, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, the first ten days of November were dedicated across the school to remembrance of the 1,157 Etonians who fought and died in First World War. Every day we reflected on the histories and legacies of Etonians who died, exploring the impact of conflict on the individual.

This year, only Year 13 and Year 10 were able to attend services in the school’s chapels on Remembrance Day. The rest of the school was invited to listen to the service from a distance in the form of an online podcast, instructed to begin listening at 10:38 to hear the chapel bells strike at the right time to observe the two minute silence.  

In the service the Conduct emphasised the human connection with war, urging us to recognise the dangers of glorifying or celebrating war and nations who involve themselves with it.

Remembrance Sunday held in a pandemic makes us think about service and sacrifice of all kinds. All war represents a failure of the human spirit. Memory of war should be careful, thoughtful, often grief-stricken, and should steer well clear of celebration. On this day, we remember this glorious side of our humanity, our capacity for solidarity and sacrifice, without forgetting the darker side

The Provost, Address to College Chapel

Across the United Kingdom commemorations and traditions have been cancelled, most notably the annual Remembrance Sunday March past the Cenotaph, in which hundreds of veterans participate. This year was the 100th anniversary of the first march held in 1920. A ceremony still took place at the Cenotaph, widely viewed as the centre of national commemoration, with smaller local tributes paid in front of war memorials and crosses of sacrifice throughout the country.  

Where services have gone ahead they have been under strict regulations, or have been adapted to suit an online format. A special service was held to mark the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior, an unidentified soldier buried in 1920 to represent all those who died in the First World War and whose identities are not known.

The sale of poppies, the symbol of Armistice Day, has also become an increasingly important part of this year’s commemorations. The Royal British Legion, which supports veterans and their families in many critical ways, faced a significant drop in funding and launched an urgent appeal for support of this year’s remembrance commemorations. Online donations have worked to make up for this shortfall, and at Eton QR codes were widely circulated to encourage donations from members of the community.

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Eton Does Not Forget

Remembrance Day commemorations this year have been particularly moving, and have reminded us all of the importance of our shared humanity.

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