Yesterday as Mayor’s Consort (my dear old man is a mayor) I attended a service to remember and pay our respects to those who served and died in conflicts – not just the world wars but everywhere. During our time in office we have met many who have done their duty are doing their duty or who are prepared to do their duty. When they are fighting far away it’s important for them and their families that what they do is recognised and valued.
Most soldiers carry out their duties correctly and conscientiously. It’s to be hoped that the case of the Royal Marine who cold-bloodedly murdered a seriously wounded Afghan man in Helmand Province in September 2011 (as distinct to killing in battle) in breach of the Geneva Convention is an isolated incident. This man has been court martialled and sent to prison for life.
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 after four years of hell, of slaughter so bloody, vile and immense that we can barely comprehend it, the guns finally fell silent. You and I weren’t there and there is almost no first-hand recollection from WW1 and decreasingly less from WW2. But it is still important to remember, to share the realities of the Great War and to learn from history. Back in 1914, war was thought to be glorious and a man thought to be a coward if he failed to sign up. But Wilfred Owen (who survived the four years of WW1 dying in the final few days before the Armistice) wrote some painfully beautiful poems including Dulce et Decorum Est (how sweet it is to die for your country) and called it “the old lie”. There’s nothing sweet about waging or dying in war.
It is sometimes necessary to fight and when the country goes to war (whether you agree with it or not) we should be properly appreciative of what our fighting men and women do for us. Every year the Royal British Legion and their Poppy Appeal aims to raise millions of pounds for veterans and their families. Support the Appeal and take time to remember and take the time to honour the memories of those who have fought and fallen for us.
Next year is the centenary of the Great War. The milestone will be fully commemorated and I am pleased to hear that there is a plan to put together a programme enabling pupils and teachers from every state school in the country to research the First World War history, and follow their journey of discovery through a trip to the Battlefields.
Our past is also our future and we have to learn lessons from history. The contribution of Commonwealth Soldiers in the wars was immense. 1.3 million people volunteered with the British Indian Army in the First War (70,000 lost their lives); this doubled in the Second World War. Those who fought in the Allied Forces weren’t just Tommies. There were Tariqs and Tajinders too. Every single one of us, whatever our background, owes a debt of gratitude to those who fought for our freedoms nearly a century ago.
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