Geordie and I hurried through the high glass doors of the Royal Albert Hall’s portico entrance facing Kensington Gardens. Barely pausing, we climbed swiftly up the red stairs towards the first floor of boxes, feeling harried and rushed because of delays on the railway. Warmly greeted, glasses of wine soon in hand, we sat down. I am always spellbound by the red and gold warmth of what feels like an amphitheatre inside this marvellous building.
It is a magnificent auditorium built 150 years ago, rich and wonderful, which has welcomed new and old composers, worldwide orchestras, inspiring young musicians as well as those at the top of their careers . Going there is a rather like a magical adventure into a different world. On this particular occasion it was the premiere of composer and conductor Patrick Hawes’ new work ‘the Great War Symphony’, which he wrote to commemorate the First World War. It was collaboration between Classic FM, Viking Cruises and our hosts were SSAFA (one of the charities we supported at our Heroes at Highclere event last month).
The programme for the first half of the evening was a collection of many favourites from Parry to Elgar, Gustav Holst to John Williams and even a piece from the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’. I enjoyed the fanfares, the drums, the band of the Household Cavalry, youth choirs and extraordinary heart-breaking photos and moving pictures from the First World War, loaned by the Imperial War Museum.
The second half was taken up entirely by the Great War Symphony. It began with the sound of Big Ben and the real optimism there was at the outbreak of the war that it would soon be all over. The music lead us through the pieces sung by a woman – a mother, the heartbreak of the battles of Gallipoli and on to those who were waiting and those who were witnessing the war on the front lines, nursing and comforting. From there the Elegy of the next part recognises how you know how much you love someone only when you lose them, before the last movement and the tenors call to stop the war, stop all the clocks …
For the Heroes weekend I had reached out to SSAFA because I appreciated their support of families affected by conflict today and to acknowledge that whilst we should not forget the past, it is practical support today that really matters. Within days of the outbreak of the First World War, SSAFA was called upon to assist the Government to help ensure that families didn’t suffer hardship when the men were called up. One of their volunteers, Ash, decided to look through the SSAFA World War I archive. From 1914 to 1918, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was a Life Member and Honorary Vice President of the Hampshire Branch of SSAFA. The Honorary Vice President is not an position that is awarded lightly either then or now and I expect it was bestowed by the Branch for Lord Carnarvon’s conspicuous service and support to SSAFA within Hampshire.
Lord Carnarvon would have held the appointment until his death. It makes great sense to me that he helped SSAFA as he continued to pay the wages to the families of the menfolk of Highclere who had been sent to war – their families needed something to live on. The Highclere Roll of Honour lists the men who died, but behind those names are the families who survived them, the men who were injured and the children who struggled to cope. There was very little government help in those days and SSAFA stood almost alone in offering assistance.
By chance and through friends, I had also reached out to TAPS, a similar but more recent US charity which looks at supporting veterans and they also joined us at Heroes.
Studying at school, one of my history text books was called ‘A Broken World’. Mark Twain apparently said “History may not repeat, but it often rhymes” and the world today often seems to be one of polarised harsh statements made without reflection or consideration. Our parents and grandparents must have hoped we would remember the values of friendship, that it is better to walk together into the same room, to talk and to eat together to create a brighter future. The concert in the Albert Hall ended with The Last Post, with the promise we all make to remember those who have died and to wear our poppies with pride.
What is rather special is that my Geordie, the 5th Earl’s great Grandson, is to become an Honorary Vice President of SSAFA and I know he will follow the same tradition.