Lest We Forget
The eternal flame
by Brian Radcliffe (revised, originally published in 2012)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore our awareness of the consequences of war.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
Leader: If you’re ever visiting Paris, I encourage you to go to the end of the Champs-Élysées 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.
Reader 1: Although the Arc itself was built during the time of Napoleon, the tomb was created more recently. The flame was first lit nearly 100 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 that 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 be put in this grave and become a symbol, the Unknown Soldier.
Reader 2: 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 war, 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 anonymous to us. To most of us, he or she is an ‘unknown soldier’, 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.
Reader 1: Powerful emotions of shock, grief, anger and disbelief tear people apart. Their plans for the future are destroyed and memories are all that remain. Each individual’s life, past or present, will be mourned forever by someone.
Time for reflection
Leader: Armistice Day, the day the First World War ended, is commemorated every year on 11 November. Nowadays, it is called Remembrance Day, and throughout the UK, at 11 a.m. – the time when the war ended – people stop and stand in silence for two minutes, remembering those who died in that war and others of the last 100 or so years. We also remember them on Remembrance Sunday, the second Sunday in November.
Reader 1: Most of us will only be able to think of the Unknown Soldier as someone who died in war. We may not personally know anyone who has died, so can think only in general terms. Yet it’s important that we also remember that there are many people for whom the remembering is personal because 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.
Reader 2: In a sense, though, 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 kept on burning. It burns as a symbol for each one of us - not just on Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday, but every day - so that we are constantly reminded that war is an option that should be avoided wherever possible.
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.
‘We’ll meet again’ by Vera Lynn, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsM_VmN6ytk (3.04 minutes long)
‘Remembrance Day’ by Bryan Adams, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qq5hFrb7b_E (6.01 minutes long)