The Service of Remembrance at the College is essentially based around music and readings, including personal accounts of those whose lives were affected by war on and off the fighting fields. It is a demanding occasion for the College and Prep School Choirs and other musicians, but it is also an opportunity for deep reflection for the congregation which, as always, was made up of current pupils, parents, current and former staff and Old Brightonians. This year, the Chapel was bursting at the seams and it was fitting in this, the 60th anniversary of Armistice Day but also the 160th anniversary of the founding of Brighton College and Dr Seldon’s final term.
As the Requiem is sung, members of the College CCF present the College standard to the Chaplain so it can be laid across the altar, and Prefects lay wreaths at the memorials to OBs lost in battle. The Headmaster then reads out the (seemingly never ending) list of OBs lost in the Second World War* and in subsequent conflicts. The Last Post follows, and the traditional 2 minute silence is observed.
The music is led predominantly by the College Choir and organist but there are several congregational hymns and it is always pleasing to hear the Chapel full of strong voices.
The readings are especially moving, especially to those of us who do not recall the horrors of war first hand. Whether a diary extract from a First World War soldier in the trenches or an account of the difficulties experienced by the men returning from battle and the women who had been forced to adapt to a life without their husbands, there is much to reflect on. However, this year a current Sixth Former gave her personal account of two visits she has made to Auschwitz-Birkenau, following in the footsteps of members of her family who were taken there to be exterminated.
Her description of the chilling horror which can still be seen at that site, including the lake which was filled with the ashes of those who were murdered and remains grey even now, and the piles of spectacles, suitcases and human hair, moved many to tears. The dignity and total self-control of the student was arguably as impressive as her mastery of the language which she used to describe what she had seen.
The inclusion of an extract from an American soldier’s ‘blog’ describing his time in Iraq helped to reinforce the message that Remembrance Sunday is about those who have fallen in all manner of conflicts, and that to date 97 British servicemen have died since that invasion.
After the service, refreshments were served in Houses and the Café de Paris. Many reflected on the need to keep passing the messages of war and remembrance down the generations. The College has found a powerful recipe for doing just that and our thanks go to everyone involved. It was a sobering yet uplifting occasion.
* Every year the Headmaster reads out the names of those OBs who fell in active service, alternating between the First and Second World Wars. In 2006, the Headmaster will read out the names of First World War dead, and those who have fallen in subsequent conflicts.