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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

As Commemoration Day approaches, the sense of loss feels closer to home

November 30 marks the day when we recall those who have given their lives in the service of the country, writes Peter Hellyer

Members of the UAE Armed Forces participate in the Commemoration Day flag raising ceremony at Wahat Al Karama in 2016. Philip Cheung / The Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
Members of the UAE Armed Forces participate in the Commemoration Day flag raising ceremony at Wahat Al Karama in 2016. Philip Cheung / The Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

Should I wish to comment on local events of last week and this week, I would be spoilt for choice. Last week’s inauguration of the rightly-praised Louvre Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Art have been followed by the Dubai Air Show and, here in the capital, the Adipec oil show – activities that have attracted widespread attention both at home and abroad. There’s much else besides, albeit at a less-rarified level, like the Abu Dhabi Science Festival, along with the usual array of visiting presidents and ministers from abroad.

A couple of weeks ahead is the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix with much more on the horizon. I haven’t consulted my diaries from years past, but this November is the busiest that I can remember. The plethora of activities is testimony to the way in which the UAE has emerged as a key centre for the region, evidence of the way in which we have established our place in the world. I cannot help feeling a little sorry, though, for those who have been obliged to attend as many of the activities as possible. I hope they manage to get a bit of a rest at the weekend. I hope, too, that some serious thought will be given to the question of how, in years to come, there can be planning for a slightly less frenetic month. Exhaustion is never a comfortable companion for productivity.

Amidst it all, I took the opportunity last Saturday of attending the annual service of remembrance at Abu Dhabi’s St Andrew’s Church, an occasion to honour those who have laid down their lives for their countries over the last century. Initiated to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, at which time the ceasefire in 1918 that ended the First World War came into effect, Remembrance Day now provides an occasion to mark and to recall the sacrifices made, by the military and civilians alike, in other conflicts too, from the Second World War onwards to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The words of one of the hymns seemed particularly apposite this year: "Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, the still small voice of calm."

Amidst the turmoil of our busy lives, a pause to reflect is of value to all.

In little over two weeks time, our own UAE day of remembrance takes place, Commemoration Day, on which we recall those who have laid down their lives in the service of the country, particularly in Yemen. For a growing number of Emiratis, the families, relatives and friends of the fallen, it will be an especially poignant occasion, imbued with a sense of pride perhaps, but also time for a renewed sense of loss and grieving. This year, the feeling of loss will come closer to home: the younger brother of a close friend died in action last month. To him and his family, and to the families of all of our slain, I offer my heartfelt condolences. I commend to them the words spoken at services around the globe over the last few days:

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them."

Since the beginning of the year, I have referred on more than one occasion to the fact that 2017 has been designated as our "Year of Giving". Through charitable activities, through volunteer work, through simple acts of kindness and politeness, many have displayed their commitment to that ideal.

There are, however, those for whom the nature of their giving has been of a higher order, whose love of this country can rightly be described, in the words of another hymn sung last Saturday, as "the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice".

May their souls rest in peace.