Remembrance Day at the Shrine streamed direct to the heart

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If the act of remembrance is properly a solitary, personal thing, 2020 delivered.

The Shrine of Remembrance courtyard, normally the setting for more than a thousand guests sitting and standing shoulder to shoulder each November 11, sat high and all but deserted on its hill above the city of Melbourne on Remembrance Day this year.

The Shrine of Remembrance was closed to the public due on Wednesday because of COVID-19 restrictions.Credit:Eddie Jim

Victorian Governor Linda Dessau stood with a single soldier before the Stone of Remembrance within the shrine's echoing sanctuary, a beam of sunlight illuminating at 11am the word "love" on the stone’s inscription from John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man".

There was no speech from the steps – the governor’s address was pre-recorded.

Out across the state and beyond, those remembering did so with the assistance of a technology no exhausted soldier or grieving family could have imagined when the First World War finally ended 102 years ago at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month.

The stripped-down events at the Shrine were streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.

Bugler Jason Reeve plays the Last Post at the intersection of Flinders and Swanston streets on Wednesday.Credit:Joe Armao

And so, the old remembering was a solitary thing observed through personal computers, tablets and smartphones.

And beyond the Shrine, at 10 spots across the city, including Parliament House and Flinders Street Station, the traffic was stopped for two minutes while buglers sounded the Last Post.

Ms Dessau could not avoid the unusual nature of it, noting in her speech that we had already learned during 2020 that we can remember "together, but apart".

We could do so, she said, without diminishing the significance of remembering those who had suffered and died in more than a century of wars and peacekeeping.

Besides, Ms Dessau said, such necessity was nothing new for those who had served and found themselves apart from normal life in trenches, battlefields, foreign villages or in prisoner-of-war camps. And their families knew what it was to be anxiously apart from those they loved, too.

Perhaps, then, Remembrance Day 2020 forced us to remember in perfectly appropriate ways: silent, alone, wearing a poppy, in private contemplation.

The Last Post sounded, the bugler at the Shrine, Able Seaman Luke Glasson, in concert with other buglers stationed across the silent city and in country districts.

The Ode was recited by Navy veteran Sub-Lieutenant Jim Paizis. A young ambassador of the Shrine, Liana Henderson-Drife, spoke the words of the old war poem, In Flanders Field.

Workers listen to bugler Jason Reeve play the Last Post outside Flinders Street station on Wednesday.Credit:Joe Armao

A detachment from the 2/10th Field Regiment set an artillery piece booming. Vintage planes flew above.

It was all familiar, but in 2020, the Shrine was a lonely place. The remembering in this year of social distancing and isolation was elsewhere. In the heart.

Without access to the Shrine, about 200 people gathered in the grassed area nearby to mark the occasion.

Among the socially-distanced crowd were veterans and families, who stood quietly to observe two firings of the cannon, followed by a minute’s silence at 11am.

There was a strong police presence at the Shrine on Wednesday following a series of anti-lockdown protests at the monument.Credit:Eddie Jim

A strong police presence, including officers on horseback, was visible outside the Shrine, with barricades in place at some entrance points. A series of anti-lockdown protests have taken place near the monument over the past two months.

At least two disgruntled protesters were turned away by police from entering the Shrine .

With Lee Robinson

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