Len Grant visits a special Remembrance Day service in Gorton… for the whole community.
It’s been Remembrance Day today: 91 years since the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany marked the end of the First World War. Now, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, thousands of services are being held up and down the country as people stop in their tracks to remember the fallen in conflicts past and present.
I’ve come to Gorton Cemetery where schoolchildren from 17 primary and high schools are joining ex-servicemen, young men from the local training corps, serving police and fire officers and local families to commemorate the lives lost.
Sharon Adesiyan is here with her classmates from St Clements School in Openshaw. They have been learning about the Second World War at school. What, I ask, have you found out? “All the women took over the men’s jobs while they went off to fight,” she says. “And did they do a better job?” I ask, rather unfairly. “They did just as good a job as the men,” she replied, diplomatically.
A brass band from Wright Robinson College strikes up to signify the start of the service. “It’s not about us old folk”, says Rev. David Gray, “those who put their lives on the line did so for the world their children would inherit. Today is about you and about all of us honouring them by doing all we can in our time to build peace for you and with you for future generations.”
There are prayers, readings, more from the band and a procession of wreaths. Then, at 11 o’clock, the bearers lower their standards and their heads in silent contemplation.
This event at the cemetery is relatively recent. Only since 2001 have local people gathered each November, all due to the efforts of Les Worthington, chair of the Belle Vue branch of the Royal British Legion. “There were only eight of us at that first remembrance service,” he recalls, “and only two of them were servicemen.” Since then, Les has built up the event to include local schools, and, judging by the turnout today, he has been extremely successful.
He allocates each school a section of the cemetery and after the service the children and their teachers investigate their portion on a map supplied by Les.
“We’ve been coming down for four years now,” Neil Flint, headteacher of Aspinall Primary School in Gorton tells me. “It’s incredibly useful in getting the children talking about the various conflicts and the sacrifices made. There are eight war graves in this section of the cemetery and for each one we find the age, rank and regiment of the fallen soldier.”
As the standard bearers roll up their ceremonial flags, the schoolchildren scatter to all parts of the cemetery and place poppy crosses in front of the 157 war graves. They ask their teachers questions about each headstone, adding their own family’s experiences of great-grandfathers and grandfathers. Today is a day they will not forget.