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So we never forget: The eternal flame

Explores students’ awareness of the consequences of war (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore students’ awareness of the consequences of war (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).

Preparation and materials


  1. Leader  If you’re ever visiting Paris, I encourage you to go to the end of the Champs Elysee just before 6.30 p.m. There, at the Arc de Triomphe, a special ceremony takes place each evening. Flags are paraded, wreaths of flowers are laid and a flame is rekindled. It’s the eternal flame at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

  2. Although the Arc itself was built during the time of Napoleon, the tomb was created more recently. The flame was first lit 90 years ago, on 11 November 1923, a few years after the end of the First World War, and marks the grave of a soldier killed in that war. Nobody knows exactly who the soldier was. Maybe he lost his documents. Maybe he was so horribly wounded it was impossible to recognize him. Maybe his entire regiment was destroyed so there was no one left to identify him. He was simply one of the millions killed in the horrific battles that marked the war. Yet, his body was chosen to put in this grave and become a symbol, the Unknown Soldier.

  3. When so many people have been killed, it’s difficult to think of them as individuals. Even when a name is given in the news of a soldier who has died in Afghanistan, even when we see the pictures of the coffin being taken from the plane and processed through the streets to the cemetery, it can seem very anonymous to us. To most of us he or she is an ‘unknown soldier’ of our own time, but to others the death is a devastating personal blow – someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, fiancée or friend is no longer alive. 

    Powerful emotions of shock, grief, anger and disbelief tear people apart. Their plans for the future are destroyed, memories are all that remain. Each individual’s life, past or present, will be mourned forever by someone.

Time for reflection

Leader   The 11 November is Armistice Day, the day the First World War ended. Throughout the UK, at 11 a.m. – the time the war stopped – people stop and stand in silence for two minutes, remembering those who’ve died in that and the other wars of the last 100 or so years. On Remembrance Sunday, the second Sunday in November, we also remember them.

Most of us will only be able to think of the Unknown Soldier as someone who died in war. We probably won’t personally know anyone who has died, so can think only in general terms. Yet it’s important we also remember that there are people, many people, for whom the remembering is personal, it has happened to someone they know. There may be some here in this assembly. It’s for their sake that we stand and remember. It’s for their sake that the eternal flame is rekindled every night in Paris.

Yet, in a sense it is also for all our sakes. There are those who, in moments of frustration, drunkenness or madness, have tried to extinguish the eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe. They have been severely punished and the flame has been kept burning. It burns as a symbol for each one us, not just on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday but every day, so we are constantly reminded that war is an option which should be avoided at all costs. 

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the courage of those who died in war.
Comfort those who mourn those deaths at this time.
Help us never to forget the horror of war.
May we play our part in bringing peace to our world.


‘I vow to thee my country’ (Common Praise (Canterbury Press), 355, 2000 edition) or ‘And did those feet in ancient time’ (‘Jerusalem’) (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 37, 2008 edition) 


‘Remembrance Day’ by Brian Adams 

Publication date: November 2013   (Vol.15 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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