To Woolwich for the memorial march for the fourth anniversary of the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby.
I have attended this in previous years. There is a memorial to Fusilier Rigby in his home town of Middleton Greater Manchester; in London his name is listed outside the local football team’s ground at Charlton Athletic FC, in the Garrison church, and informally on the railings in Wellington Street by the spot where he died. This year there has been a great deal of concern at the vandalism of the flags and flowers consistently since the New Year, most recently last Wednesday overnight when a teddy bear laid on behalf of his little son was taken (I heard it was later found thrown aside down the road) and flags slashed.
So people were keen to replace the flags and flowers yet again, and angry lest they be damaged again.
I met friends and we waited for the Ride of Respect by members of various scooter clubs of Southern England.
An announcment was made that the band, and veterans, would be leaving from the gates of Woolwich Barracks very soon and anybody, scooterists (a terrible word for very nice people) or members of the public who wished to walk in the parade would be very welcome, and should make their way to the barracks immediately.
The Royal British Legion is the premier veterans and ex-servicemen and women’s organisation in the country. Every town of any size will have a Division, usually with a clubhouse for socialising, they press for veterans welfare and other issues of importance. In most towns they will be heavily involved in organising the annual Remembrance Day commemoration and many divisions will have a band. This was the band of the Romford Division, who had travelled from Essex.
Followed by veterans including a group of former Royal Fusiliers, recognisible by their hackle of red over white.
We stopped in Wellington Road where Pipers and a drummer were waiting. Speeches were made by close friends of the Rigby family, a lady whose son served with Lee Rigby, who was instrumental in organising the day. The pipers played the introduction to Highland Cathedral then the band joined in; it is a piece which moved this old pen-pusher to tears. In honour of Lee Rigby’s trade in the army of drummer the band then played two drum pieces, the names of which I wasn’t able to find out, but which were very impressive.
There was a minutes silence, with the bugler playing the Last Post and the rouse. Then Rule Britannia and the National Anthem.
Thanks to his dad this young scooterist probably had the best view in the house.
Then the parade moved off to attend St George’s, the Garrison Church.
The church was built in 1862-3 to serve the Royal Artillery. In 1944 it took a hit from a V1 flying bomb and is now in ruins but protected and conserved. It seems to me to be a Victorian Rievaulx for the 21st century.
A tribute in the shape of a hackle was laid. I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
The mosaics are by Burke & Co, probably made in Venice and installed during and just after WWI. Monuments to men of the Royal Artillery from the Crimean war to the middle of WWII do survive. Others have been added since, including two men, a gunner and a civilian killed when the IRA bombed local pub the Kings Arms in 1974.
Another example of military drumming.
It was a very moving afternoon.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
Photographs E Weatherwax, London May 2017