This Sunday will be the 11th November, at 11am it will be one hundred years to the moment when the Great War - at least on the Western Front came to an end - with the armistice. There are no more living veterans from the First World War, yet people will pause to publically and privately remember the veterans and survivors of more historic and more recent conflicts and particularly those who never came back.
|In Flanders field...|
The 947,023 military casualties (with 744,702 of them from these islands) between 1914 and 1918 (by way of comparison with the 264,000 military dead from 1939 - 1945) should still shock us even now. My family like far too many others in Wales (and elsewhere on these islands) had relatives who served and survived and also relatives who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts.
My lost relatives (and their missing descendants) have been playing on my mind over the last few years - one of my maternal grandmother’s lost two brothers in the First World War and its aftermath. Her elder brother was a regular soldier, who wrote home and told them not to allow his younger brother to join up and to come out to France. It was too late the younger brother had already joined up was killed in action in 1918 and buried near Amiens. My paternal great grandfather (and my grandfather) both served in the First World War and survived but came back as changed men (as did many).
Coming from a relatively large extended close family, I grew up with a generation of older relatives a number of whom had seen active service in the second world war in the Navy, Army, Air Force and the merchant navy. They like many from those generations rarely talked about their actual experiences of the war, and then perhaps save only occasionally to those whom they had served with, who would have understood, because they had survived similar experiences. Younger relatives have also served in more recent more modern conflicts around the world.
As I have said previously I have absolutely no problem remembering those who lost their lives and the courage, comradeship and their endurance of those who served in the First World War and other more modern conflicts (and not necessarily those who served in the armed forces). What I have no time whatsoever is rose tinted sentimental nostalgic flag waving foot-tapping pap. As has been said elsewhere, soldiers don’t go into conflict aiming to die - not for the politicians, for patriotism or even us - but they often can end up dying with their friends and comrades with whom they served.
The first world war was the first conflict when real concerted efforts were made to remember and record all of those who had fallen - particularly because of the decision (taken for a variety of reasons) not to bring the fallen home for burial. One consequence is that far too many literally still lie in corners of foreign fields, are names on war memorials, faded photographs, faded memories or too many literally have no grave at all.
Speaking of another bloody conflict, US President Abraham Lincoln rightly noted at Gettysburg the fallen had given their last full measure of devotion. And that what we do or say does not really matter in comparison with what the fallen (and those who survived) had done. It may be more true today that the world will little note the current crop of political leader’s lyrical offerings on conflict (recent or older) or long remember them.
What we should never forget what the former soldiers and veterans did and what they went through. We should not just cherish their memory but should ensure that after their military service they remain fully honoured as is the military covenant. Never again should it be found that dead heroes are cheaper to honour than live ones.