Monday, November 07, 2005

Remember in November

Praise the Lord we are a musical nation

On the first Saturday of November
St John’s welcomes Royal British Legion members from Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan for a Service of Remembrance and dedication of a memorial garden, in which crosses are planted to remember fallen comrades, in special plots marked by the different armed service units. Whilst the majority of plots represent the First and Second World Wars, Korea, the Falklands and the Gulf Wars are also represented. There are fewer World War Two veterans planting crosses now, sixty years on, but some are replaced by a younger generation of relatives, determined not to forget.
This is my fourth such event in Cardiff, coming as it does as on the first weekend anniversary of my appointment as Rector. This past two years, the ceremony has been graced by the presence of
Cardiff’s Pipe Band, finely attired in kilts, playing out in the churchyard though intermittent rain, attracting much attention from passers-by on a day when there’s a big rugby match at the Stadium. This year, for the service in church we had the St Athan Voluntary Band, prize-winners at this year’s national Eisteddfod, playing heart-warmingly beforehand, and accompanying the hymns with great warmth. Every face seemed to be lit up with smiles. The best thing happened at the end. The band came out to accompany the National Anthems, sung in the churchyard by all those who had planted crosses, and others who’d managed to exit the church in time to join in. Then the band and pipers went back inside and began a spontaneous jam session. They’d never played together before, but filled the church with a mighty joyous sound, of beautifully played music that made you want to cheer. We’ve invited them to come back next year and put on a joint concert, just for the pleasure of it.

Proposing a Cardif Blitz memorial
Last year I suggested that Cardiff should consider erecting a memorial to the 350+ victims of the Blitz in Cardiff, just to see if there’d be any interest. The Legion’s leaders like the idea, and hopefully this will get discussed and eventually take shape as a practical proposal.
As part of the St David II shopping centre development in the centre of town, work on the ‘public realm’ is envisaged as part of the general proposals. The church yard is currently intersected by an east-west path constructed at the time of the Victorian restoration of the church. The larger south section is maintained by the City Council, and for some years, management problems have led to it being closed except for routine work on trees and bushes – of no use to the public at all. The a proposal was made for a second east-west path in the lee of the old library building next door. The design would allow for two extra gates, new seating and paving to allow it to be used as a thoroughfare, be open daily, and used as a small park. This has been well received, as it will restore to public use a quiet open green space at the heart of the centre.
There was an early suggestion about a public art installation, but nothing specific. Since it’s a grave yard, I though that anything put there should be a memorial of sorts, as are all the other stones therein.
The buildings around St John’s were blitzed. One incendiary went through the roof and was dealt with. The burn mark is still visible on the tiles – I want to put a plaque next to that to tell that story.
Anyway it occurred to me that a Blitz memorial would be appropriate, so I started investigating whether or not one already existed. Recently I found a common grave with a memorial to some Blitz victims who died in the same tragedy, up in Cathays cemetery, but no public memorial to all. Eventually I am hoping a simple obelisk can be erected in the churchyard, and a book of remembrance (which the Legion are interested to provide) in the north chapel - a dedicated war memorial.
Last year the City did a memorial event for survivors. A local historian produced a list of victims for that occasion, so there is already a knowledge base for getting this project moving. I feel this is very much in keeping with our role as a ‘citizens’ church. For many years,
St John’s has been nicknamed the ‘Westminster Abbey of Cardiff’. It’s how people see the church’s role in the city, much more so than playing the part of an ordinary Parish church. Something that needs a lot more work to develop properly.

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