11 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday - World War memorial
It seems so long ago now that for the newer generations growing up, it is just a story from years gone by. Each generation getting further and further away.

It is hard for people to imagine, let alone associate with such atrocities that our Grandparents and Great Grandparents endured.

With the last three remaining soldiers from World War I passing away in 2009, it’s a memory, but a very important one. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” in 1918; 100 years ago this year.

My earliest memories of realising the brutality and futility of what those young men encountered on the front lines and the deep and lasting effect war has on everyone, men women and children, was when I was asked to learn a poem in school. I was 13 years old and the poet was Wifred Owen.

The poem was Dulce Et Decorum Est, The language and imagery is clear and terrifyingly real. It struck a chord with me and, 37 years on, I am still able to recite it.

I remember assuming Wilfred Owen must have been an old man. The language he used seemed far too dark for a young person to write, yet he was only 25 when he died. Killed in action on 4 November 1918 exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice that ended the war. His mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells in his home town of Shrewsbury were ringing out to celebrate the end of the war.

Yet in spite of all the devastation of the First World War, we didn’t learn and, even though an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians died, the lesson that Wilfred Owen spelt out to us so clearly fell on deaf ears.

Some 24 years later World War II eclipsed the previous war’s casualties with more than 60 million people killed. The figure estimates around 3% of the entire global population of 1940 died (est. 2.3 billion).

What isn’t widely known or reported is how different things might have been if it weren’t for Winston Churchill’s determination to stand and fight to the bitter end.

In the corridors of power in parliament and Whitehall, Lord Halifax and an embittered ex-Prime Minister  Neville Chamberlain who’s resignation opened the door for Churchill to become Prime Minister, favoured a negotiated peace with Germany.

In the summer of 1940, Halifax then Foreign Secretary fought to convince the War Cabinet that the UK should align with France and approach Mussolini to broker an agreement and surrender to Hitler. A chilling thought.

How different might our world look now if those discussions had taken place.

World War II

Growing up, World War II was much more real for me. It was less than 30 years later that I was born, so my parents were definitely affected by it. My father’s first memories of his dad where not until he was 5 years old. He was born in 1940 and my Grandfather was a Sergeant and tank commander who fought with Montgomery in El Alamein in Egypt North Africa.

Whist El Alamein eventually proved to be a decisive and very important strategic victory  against the Germans, my Grandfather was captured and remained in a German Prisoner of War Camp. He was one of the lucky ones.

All of my family from that era are now gone, with Gail’s Nana sadly dying just days ago. Spending time with her in hospital before she passed reminded me of just how strong she was and how strong everyone from that era was. No generation after, no matter how hard we try, can every put ourselves in their shoes and nor would we want to.

Their calmness and resilience is like no other generation in history. The world we live in today is very different as a result of  their efforts. Not just different because of the freedom they sacrificed their lives for, but also the belief passion and determination became a platform for the biggest growth period of innovation.

Out of adversity comes greatness. A diamond is created from the greatest pressure on the planet, we are all shaped by our experiences. Whatever analogy you care to use, we must never forget, we are where we are because of the millions of people who died in a desperate attempt to protect the lives of generations to come.

We are that generation. So wherever you are today, take a minute and stop and think.

Dulce et decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
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