Gone but Not Forgotten: How Fiction Helps Us Remember and Understand the Past

Today is Remembrance Day, a day we remember and give tribute to those we lost in the line of duty. It’s a solemn day, to say the least. It is a day for reflection, compassion and, in a way, hope. Here in the UK, 

The symbol for this day and remembrance is the poppy, as their red petals represent the blood they spilt for us, with the black centre embodying grief those left behind experience. Also, there is a story about how they supposedly grow well in fields drenched in blood, but I am not sure how true that is. I will admit, fields of poppies do look like blood-soaked ones.

I think in a way, parts of my country haven’t been able to move on. For instance, my hometown of Glasgow was brutally blasted night after night during WW2. We made most of the ships on the River Clyde, which made us a target. My Grandmother’s house was bombed, thankfully she and her family were alright, but that must have been traumatic.

Go anywhere in Scotland, if not the UK as a whole, and you will see that almost every town and city has a memorial made dedicated to those who used to call those places home, before dying on the frontlines. They are everywhere, almost always kept in pristine condition. 

War, death and loss are everywhere, even in fiction. A lot of British fiction has some connection to war. From The Lord Of The Rings to The Pillars of the Earth. Many of our greatest writers either served on the frontlines or grew up during wartime misery. For instance, did you know that the creator of Winne the Pooh, A. Milne, served in both World Wars? J.R.R. Tolkien famously survived The Battle of the Somme, a seriously brutal fight.

There is a very toxic idea here, the whole “stiff upper lip” mentality. Basically, yes, you might be suffering and needing help, but keep your mouth shut and power through it. That mindset is still prevalent here. I’m sure you can see how harmful that is. People during and after the war couldn’t talk about their trauma. On top of that, mental health wasn’t seen as important.

So what did people do and still do today? They turned to stories. People wrote and read to help themselves. Whether as a distraction or to find meaning. Again, considering how some of the best-known works are by veterans, is it that much of a stretch to say that writing helped them? That reading these stories helped others heal?

Not only that but inform and give insight to later generations, who didn’t experience it first hand. I’m lucky to not have gone through that first-hand, but when I was little I struggled to understand just how horrific it was for everyone. When I got a bit older and started blossoming into a bookworm, it started to hit home thanks to the books I read. Stories such as Goodnight Mister Tom gave me an insight into what it must have been like for evacuated children. Sent off to safer parts of the country, away from family. Some returned only to find their family wasn’t there waiting for them, the family home nothing but bricks. My heart still breaks a bit when I think about that.

Fiction also lets us see the other side of the conflict. Growing up in Scotland, I was only taught about what it was like for the Allied forces, everyone else was handwaved off as “the bad guys”. As an adult, I now know that it was nowhere near that black and white. In part, thanks to fiction. Namely, Grave of the Fireflies. If you can sit through that film and not cry, you have a heart of stone. 

We must remember what happened. You know that old saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. That’s why we need days like Remembrance Day, but also fiction that gives us a perspective we wouldn’t have otherwise. 

To remember and honour the lost, but with new understanding, protect the future generations. 

3 thoughts on “Gone but Not Forgotten: How Fiction Helps Us Remember and Understand the Past

Add yours

  1. In the US, it is Veterans Day today. That holiday is intended to honor all who serve and who served.

    The holiday we specifically honor our war dead on is Memorial Day, held on the last Monday of May. It unofficially dates all the way back to 1868.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I imagine they both have their roots in Armistice Day, which was the day the Germans and the Allied troops marked the end of hostilities in World War I.

      The poppy also crosses the ocean. The National American Legion adopted it in 1928, according to Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_poppy#:~:text=At%20its%20conference%20in%201920%2C%20the%20National%20American,their%201920%20Cleveland%20Convention%20about%20%27Inter-Allied%20Poppy%20Day.%27

      Liked by 2 people

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