From the Provost’s Chair
By Callum MacLeod, Chairman of the Community Council
For several decades I have attended remembrance ceremonies at our Town War Memorial, its distinctive shape rising above North Street in the shadow of our ancient Cathedral ruins, flanked on three sides by bronze plaques on which are inscribed the names of those from these parts who fell in the brutal “war to end wars” and the perhaps even greater global conflagration, which started only some twenty years later. In recent years I have had the honour of laying wreaths of poppies on behalf of the people of St Andrews, this privilege being all the greater in the past three years, as we have marked significant anniversaries of poignant milestones of both World Wars.
In May of this year there was general national rejoicing commemorating the 75th Anniversary of VE-Day, the end, in 1945, of the war against fascism and misplaced nationalism in Europe.
On Saturday 15th August I laid a wreath to mark the 75th Anniversary of VJ-Day, the end of the war in the Far East. Those who served there often felt, perhaps with some justification, neglected or even forgotten by those back home. Was this simply because of a certain detachment caused by the great distances involved, or the lesser impact on everyday life? Or did the awesome, awful, and devastating harnessing of nature released in first one nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and then, because of the intransigence of an arrogant government, a second on Nagasaki engender a feeling of unease at the sheer destructive power unleashed apparently so indiscriminately?
With these thoughts in mind, our little ceremony in August was a sombre and small-scale affair, with only some flags and a wreath, which I will lay again on Remembrance Sunday. Unlike that grand commemoration with marching bands and a considerable military presence, I was accompanied on this occasion only by my partner Sue and a local lady we happened to meet there, who always lays flowers from her garden in memory of family members whose names are enshrined there forever. This year she was remembering a relative who had fallen in Burma. Afterwards we went round to the Town Kirk where we rang 75 times the Great Bell in the tower – which has seen St Andrews men and women go off to war since the early 15th century – and I played the National Anthem and Auld Lang Syne on the carillon.
Until last year I invariably reflected during the two-minute silence on how fortunate I and my siblings, and now my children, have been in not having had to live through wars as experienced by previous generations. Both my parents grew up during the Second World War, one grandfather served in the Army in the Mediterranean, particularly in Italy, and the other endured the horrors of the trenches as a horseman in the Great War.
But during that VJ-Day Anniversary silence only a couple of weeks ago, I was this time thinking, without diminishing what has gone before of course, that two more generations have now experienced something of the effects of war. This time there are no trenches or falling bombs. Instead there is an invisible enemy moving among us, sometimes sparing those he encounters, sometimes striking with deadly effect. We have come to know deprivation, isolation, disruption, and uncertainty. We have seen the worst as well as the best of human nature.
I implore you as we begin to see the unknown effect of the virus in winter not to let your guard down. We must follow expert scientific advice as far as social distancing, hygiene, face coverings and shielding are concerned.
In particular, whatever the rights and wrongs of the decisions to reopen schools and bring back university undergraduates from all over the world – the wisdom or folly of doing so will quickly become apparent – let us remember what it is like to be young. To paraphrase the words of my own old school’s motto – juventutis fortunas veho – our pupils and students enjoy the freedoms of being young, among whom is a belief in their own invincibility, and not being very good at following instructions, however sensible or important – the latter being something that perhaps applies to many of us of all ages.
As ever, I welcome hearing from you on any matter at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or on: 01334 478 584. dum spiro spero