I remember John Perry when I was doing biology O-Level at Victoria College, now a lifetime ago. College at that time was awash with ex-military types who had turned their hand to teaching, some good, others more like those described in “Goodbye Mr Chips” as “old crocks”. I found John Perry to be one of the better ones.
He came to the College in 1963 as a biology teacher. In an appreciation given by Brian Vibert when he left the school in 1989, he was described as "exacting but fair, versatile in his approach, ready to change his techniques and attitude to teaching when he felt it necessary, even if he did not personally wish to. He loved the subject he taught and expected others to enthuse too."
I still can picture him – tall, and with a somewhat florid face. But outside of lessons, I didn’t really get to see him. I never joined the school CCF, as I have an aversion to military square bashing, and anything like that. For one thing, like Corporal Jones in “Dad’s Army”, I cannot keep time, even when clapping to music, I am always a beat out.
But the name rang bells, and memories, when I came across this piece from “The Pilot” in 1994, I remembered the name. This piece is all about memory, and it is full of memories. Memories connect us, and here John Perry uses his own memories, and those of his ancestors, to connect to those remembered from conflicts then and today.
There is a piece in “Goodbye Mr Chips”, where Chips reads the name of the former German teacher at the school out at school assembly – he has died in the trenches. I couldn’t help but recall that when I read about John Perry’s old college of St Catherine’s College, where the panel of 54 names of those who died in the Great War also remembers Leonard Hubert Jagenberg, of the Royal German Navy Flying Corps, because he was an “old boy”. He was killed in a training accident on 7th October 1914.
And that is the other part of remembrance- reconciliation. Seeing the ties which transcend national boundaries, in this case, membership of a Cambridge college, but deeper than that, our common humanity binds us all.
At Theberton Parish Church in Suffolk, a large board commemorates 16 German Airmen who were buried in the churchyard after a Zeppelin was shot down in 1917. The graves were tended and remembered as much as those of the village men who had also died. The board also says “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master, he standeth or falleth” (Romans 14:4)
I am very pleased that a wreath will also be laid this Sunday at the memorial by the Churchyard entrance of St Brelade’s Church for the Germans who died here during the Occupation, and who were buried in the cemetery by that entrance. And also that the minutes silence now takes place on the 11th as well, something which was not the case when John Perry penned this article.
By John Perry
This oft-quoted word derives from memories. Many of us can remember items from the past, either locations or people or both from many years ago or the events of the last few months. It may well be that the "olde worlde" thatched cottage on the corner or a particular bend in a long-forgotten country lane suddenly transports you to times past; pleasant or not so.
For myself, brought up on a large manorial estate near Cambridge, there stands a bridge over a series of lakes. Some three generations ago the .Lord of the Manor had an inscription placed on each side of that bridge.
Margaret and I stood on that span earlier in the year and as I looked down the largest of the lakes, memories of the thirties flooded back. That gentleman crossed the bridge, travelled to Australia and died there (mid-thirties).
Nearer home, on Battle of Britain Air Display Day, the mere sound and vibration of the Merlin. engines of the Lancaster and Spitfire recalled those days in the forties when airfields such as Bourn, Gransden, Graveley, Duxford and Bassingbourn daily disgorged aeroplanes overhead manned: by young men, many still in their 'teens, who fought in the skies and died that we might live in freedom. They died over Britain, over Europe, over Jersey;, over Asia as many others died before and after them not only in the air but on the ground, on and under the sea.
These men and women from all walks of life we bring together on the nearest Sunday to 11th November each year: Remembrance Sunday, when we lay wreaths of .Flanders poppies and stand still with our own memories of wars large and small - from the 1914-18 War where my father fought at Mons, Ypres and on the. Somme, to 1939-45 when my small village lost its young men as the “Cambridgeshires” spent their war years in captivity in Changi PoW Camp on the Burma-Siam Railway.
Since then Korea, Kenya, Northern Ireland, the. Gulf, Bosnia, Aden, Suez and Trucial-Oman -all have added names to the lists on War Memorials all over the world. Names not just of British, nationals: but also of Allied and Commonwealth Servicemen and women.
In Remembrance : there is a:poignancy - of :lives begun- and then cut off in their primes
"They shall not grow old
as we grow old."
In many places young men are remembered from the ranks of the opposing army. In my old college in Cambridge, the Great War memorial records one "Jagenberg" under the heading, 'In Hostis Amicus." He is remembered: as an old member of the college, not as an enemy.
These names engraved in stone or wood serve to remind us not only of those who made the ultimate sacrifice as indeed did Our Lord some 2000 years ago, but also of those still 'living – some fit and well, others crippled in mind or body who must for their lifetime be looked after by us.
I no longer lay the Victoria College wreath on our own Cenotaph here in Jersey but watch the Whitehall service on television. In 1993 Margaret and I attended the service at the Hong Kong Cenotaph with an unfortunate chattering background of uninterested bystanders. We noted the "Chindit" wreath later and that was Margaret's memory of her father who was a Padre in "Ferguson's Column" in Burma in 1943-44.
A few days previously we were sitting in our Boeing 767 of Qantas Airlines at Sydney airport awaiting take-off. The ding-dong of the public address system alerted us. It was the captain. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "it is now just before 11 o'clock on 11th November. If you would care to be silent with your own thoughts of Remembrance at this time I will quieten the engines. Thank you." The aircraft, with not an empty seat, was suddenly very quiet and remained so for a few minutes. To our shame we did not connect our take-off time 11 o'clock with the Anniversary of the Armistice in 1918.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War a silence was kept on "Armistice Day," 11th November, when most people throughout the then British Empire stopped what they were doing for those moments,
We found it incredible that at least one person still thought along those lines. It has often been said that the big parades and services of "Remembrance Days" glorify wars and conflicts. I for one having during Army service taken part in some of those parades and services strongly disagree.
"At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them."
Let us never forget - least of all. when the Last Post sounds on Sunday 13th.