I spent the 2-minute silence for the 100th anniversary of the armistice of the Great War 2014-18 on top of Great Gable surrounded by hundreds of others who had gathered for the same purpose, demonstrating our solidarity with those who had ‘surrendered their part in the fellowship of hill and wind and sunshine’ during the Great War 1914-18, ‘that the freedom of this land, the freedom of our spirit should endure’ (Winthrop-Young 1924). It was a powerful moment, the silence of so many people, lashed by the fierce gusts on Windy Gap, and cold November rain on the summit, standing together to honour the memory of people most of us had never met, but whose act of collective sacrifice had set in motion the preservation of our right to freely walk the majestic landscape of the Cumbrian fells.
The cycle of remembrance continues. In September 2019, we’ll mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, and the further horrors which came with it. In this brief period in our history, the 10 months in between two such significant anniversaries, as well as honouring the memories of all those who sacrificed their lives for the benefit of future generations they would never meet, we can also think about what kind of world they were hoping their ultimate sacrifice would bring about. Surely, a world where families feel safe, where the threat of violence is kept at bay by the collective will never to have to repeat the same levels of destruction brought about by global violence. People were fighting ‘the war to end all wars.’
Fellowship of Hill and Wind and Sunshine
Remembrance is not a single event; it is a continuous process of honouring those who have died, whilst at the same time putting into action the values and ideals which they died for. Over the summer, the Fellowship of Hill and Wind and Sunshine project has brought together more than a hundred amateur singers to sing a special song cycle which simultaneously remembers those who died in the Great War, and also which enacts the ideal of freedom their sacrifice intended. These singers scaled and sang on the same Lake District fells given to the nation by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club (FRCC) to honour their members who died in the Great War.
The National Trust has today published a film on Youtube about our singing adventures this summer which captures the spirit of the project. I believe that what we discovered over the course of the Fellowship project is the same kind of solidarity and unity with each other and the land we walk on, which inspired those who ‘surrendered their part’ in it to want to preserve. It is a powerful feeling, the sense that we are enjoying a freedom which someone else – millions of people, in fact - paid for with their life. Part of our duty to the memory of those who died, is a call to live our own lives consistent with the values and ideals which inspired their sacrifice, their hope for a better world.
Our Common Humanity
Perhaps now more than ever in the European ‘post-war’ period, we need ways of seeing past the things which divide us as a species, in order to reveal our common humanity. Singing in a group is one of those ways. It’s a universal experience – all humans do it, and always have done, as a way of building bonds of trust and mutuality. It’s no surprise therefore that some of the most powerful stories to survive from the trenches are of those moments when both sides were able to use their singing voices to create harmony with each other, despite their day-to-day hostility toward each other. It’s a strong message about the power of singing to establish a connection not just to each other, and to ourselves, but to our common humanity. It’s been a joy and a privilege to witness this powerful effect of group singing on the many people who have joined us on the ‘Fellowship’ project. It’s felt like a genuine and potent way to honour the memories of the fallen, by engaging in the very acts of collective solidarity in the natural world which their sacrifices sought to preserve.
The Fellowship project is concluding with a number of events this autumn to share its impact more widely. A ‘scratch’ choir has emerged from the project, drawn from the hundred or so people who sang on the mountains, and others who have been welcomed into the throng with a shared love of singing together. This ‘Fellowship Choir’ performed at the Lakes Alive festival in September, a special event in Keswick School in October, and this last weekend at Kendal Mountain Festival, as part of a moving presentation commemorating the ‘great gift’.
One World Fellowship - 15th Dec
The final concert this year will be on December 15th at Christchurch in Cockermouth with an evening concert of joyous harmony featuring many of the singers who have raised their voices this summer to demonstrate in the most vivid sense the freedom which so many people died for. We’ve called the concert ‘One World Fellowship’ to emphasise not just the historical importance of the ‘great gift’ by a group of Cumbrian mountaineers, but also to remember the dream of world peace which their comrades’ sacrifice was intended to deliver. I hope it will be a powerful and fitting way of marking the end of the project, and all proceeds from the event will go to Cumbria Scouts, to support their ambitions to take young people from Cumbria to the international Scouting Jamboree in the US next year, where the next generation of citizens can start to build their own global fellowship with other young people from around the world who share a belief in the power of peace, harmony and cooperation as essential values on our increasingly complex and fragile planet.
The copyright-free songs from the Fellowship project are freely available online, in the same spirit of ‘gift’ which underpins the inspirational gift of land by the FRCC. In its own small way, I hope the project provides one way of realising the dreams of freedom which motivated the actions of those who died in the Great War, living our lives in the same spirit of fellowship which underscored their great sacrifice.