- Headmaster's Blog
An extract from Mr Hewlett's assembly - Monday 4 November 2019
I know I do not need to remind you that as the nights draw in we again find ourselves in the season of Remembrance. An occasion, every year, where we stop, reflect and consider those who have died in war. We recall those extraordinary numbers suffered by St Dunstan’s, now emblazoned on the walls behind me and on the balcony. Our school endured one of the highest percentage losses of any in the world. Our remembrance is of those Dunstonians and all others, in the Great Wars and in the many other theatres of conflict that have characterised our history.
It is marked at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month as this was the point that marked the end of the First World War. But our remembrance is not restricted just to the First World War. St Dunstan’s College suffered great losses in both wars and as 2020 marks the 75th anniversary since the end of the Second World War, we have decided for this year to have a particular focus on that time.
As last year, we will hold a service in the Great Hall, led by our Chaplain, and also on the crescent outside the College. Also like last year, in the build-up to the day itself and across the course of this week, you will learn more about the specifics of the Second World War and the losses at St Dunstan’s. We are fortunate to have such a knowledgeable archivist who has spent some time going through the archives in order to show you real stories from the St Dunstan’s community at that time.
So, as we begin the week that builds up to that act of remembrance, I thought I would start by reflecting on why we do this every year. Why do we stop lessons, buy poppies, plant crosses on the crescent, read out names of the dead? Shouldn’t we just move on and put it all behind us? Shouldn’t we accept that that was then and now is now? Remembering a past time with decisions taken by people now long dead, is surely a waste of time.
Well there is very good reason. Now, I know you all think that it is only Mrs Davies who uses Disney as a stimulus for her assemblies but today I am going to break with that tradition and do exactly that. Because I know that many of you will have watched CoCo – the charming Disney Pixar film about the young boy from Mexico, so desperate to perform music that he seeks out his distant relative guitarist by visiting the land of the dead. When there he discovers a painful truth which is that those inhabiting this afterlife only remain there as long as they are remembered by the living, once forgotten they wholly disappear. It is a wonderful film and deeply moving but like so many Disney movies, there are important messages contained within. The importance of remembering people and experiences of the past, in the present, is essential if society is to thrive and evolve positively. Wherever we look in the world where there are despots and evil what is the first thing that is threatened? Books, archaeology, art, music – look at the tragedy of Mosel; the book burnings of Nazi Germany; the Khmer Rouge, who believed that day 0 could only be achieved by murdering all intellectuals; the revisionist histories, still taught to children in so many countries around the world. Evil thrives on annihilating the past, refusing to learn lessons from it and insisting with all the egotism and arrogance that comes with it, that this time is different.
It never is. We must always learn from our past. We must always make a point of looking back, learning from the mistakes of humanity and acting upon it, individually and collectively. Remembering those, now no longer with us, who fought so that we might have the freedoms to learn, develop and change for the better. And that is what Remembrance is all about.