To those who like their skirl, the bagpipes swell a poignant place in the heart’s cavity. Every Remembrance Day, one of our staff members, Bill Buckingham (Head of Computer Studies in the Senior School), plays the lament Flowers of the Forest on the bagpipes in his full kilt and regalia of the Canadian Scottish Regiment. The Flowers of the Forest is so revered among pipers that it is only played at funerals and state occasions. Pipers practice it only in private. The service is stately and solemn; this lament at its place in the service is moving.
Several years ago, Bill went to Holland with the Canadian Scottish Regiment for a commemoration of the role foreign armed services played in the liberation of Holland in the Second World War. He visited the graves of the Canadian soldiers who had died in that effort. He talked about this visit and showed pictures in Senior and Middle School Chapels this week. The picture he showed of the cemetery was a wide expanse of white crosses, row on row, brilliant in the sunlight against the green of the lawn. In Holland, school children are all assigned a grave of a foreign soldier to look after. Bill and two of his colleagues played their pipes in the wide and empty cemetery. It was both personal and universal, appropriate to an occasion that is larger than we are.
At our own ceremony of remembrance today, the orchestra played pieces by John Williams and Ralph Vaughan Williams with grace and richness. The choirs of the Senior and Middle Schools were impressive. One of the unexpected highlights of the day was a descant in the last verse of “I Feel the Winds of God” – a haunting and exquisite line of soprano voices that surmounted the challenges of the choir having to follow the orchestra from the opposite side of the gymnasium. It did evoke a flock of birds above a fading battlefield. Such musical details elevate this moment beyond the ordinary. While we prepare and rehearse and plan, these details are work; when we finally hear them we find ourselves moved to a different place, no longer the gymnasium. It is a place where we can absorb the memory of the soldiers whose lives were mundane like ours, but who had greater demands of duty that were neither glorious nor inglorious, but demands nonetheless. They went, in the words of Captain Harvey, “not to win honour for themselves, but because it was the honourable thing to do.”
We honour the memory of those whose duty led to such sacrifice, and we preserve and pursue the purposes for which they died.