On Sunday 12th November hundreds of thousands of ex-armed services and serving personnel along will be joined by millions throughout the United Kingdom who at 1100 hours will stop what they are doing to remember those who have given their lives to win the freedoms we all enjoy
And even in the crowds they will at the same time be alone with their own memories
I use the phrase “have given” deliberately because as well as those who have paid the ultimate price there are also those who survived but have suffered continuing physical or/and psychological damage ever since.
Have you ever wondered why so many of the old men – and women – who have served always seem to have a tear forming in their eyes on Remembrance Day?
Well you aren’t alone many don’t.
As the son of a professional soldier I was acutely aware from a very young age of what being a ‘military brat’ meant and the danger that our dad may not return whenever he went away.
It was always brought home to all of us whenever the mums called the kids in from playing at the sight of the GPO telegram boy appearing on our street – actually Rutland Terrace in Aldershot – on his GPO red BSA 125 Bantam.
It was a motorbike with a very distinctive sound and it soon became very clear to us that a telegram was only ever bad news
I often wondered even then why they called them ‘telegram boys’ or if they were boys and not men.
Surely they knew what they were delivering which wasn’t a job for a boy.
But I digress, the fact is all of the children were hustled inside and it was only by looking at who had their curtains permanently closed did we know which family had lost their dad.
It was something our parents never ever talked about.
The other thing that I recall is from our annual summer holiday to Rotherham in South Yorkshire to stay with our grandparents (our mums’ parents) and to visit our great-grandmother, Grandma Wroe who lived in a back to back terrace home in the mining village of Thrybergh.
Two things I remember of Grandma Wroe, apart that is from the fact that she was really, really – and I mean really old – was that she was always dressed in black and had the biggest walking stick in the world – well more like a cudgel really – and had a group of sepia photos on the wall in her parlour.
The photographs were of our grandmas four brothers standing proud in WW1 army uniforms all of who never returned from the trenches of Northern France which makes me even more grateful that our dads dad made it home safely to what he and his comrades in arms were promised would be a “Land Fit for Heroes”.
Instead they suffered mass unemployment, poverty, ill-health and the Great Depression of the 1920’s.
Dad and his brother Frank joined the army in 1938 as an escape from the poverty of living in the slums of Manchester and both survived WW2 with dad having served in North Africa, Italy and Europe including the D Day Landings where he was a member of the Airborne Forces parachuted into France the night before.
After WW2 our dad continued until 1964 to serve in the army including service in Palestine, Korea and Cyprus among many other conflicts in which the UK armed services were involved.
Our eldest brother Stephen joined the Parachute Regiment and served in Aden and Northern Island, his oldest son and my nephew Scott joined the army and served in Iraq.
I broke the family tradition of enlisting in the Army and instead in November 1969 joined the Royal Navy where I was proud to serve alongside fantastic people for 23 years during which time the RN was engaged in all sorts of foreign interventions and adventures.
The one thing we all have in common is a love of our Country, and by that I don’t mean being Little Englanders, but the United Kingdom as a whole and a commitment to making sure that the principles and freedoms our family has fought for at different times for over a century are maintained.
What else we have in common is a hatred of war but at the same time a realisation that when politicians have failed it is the armed services who are called upon to be the nation’s final and only legal means of coercion.
And we went safe in knowledge that even though the UK politicians had failed to secure a peaceful solution it wasn’t their fault and we were fighting a ‘just’ war after all other avenues had been exhausted.
That was of course until the Iraq War – Tony Blair War – which as we know from the Chilcott Report was based on spurious, false and down right fabricated arguments just to satisfy his and the USA’s ego and hatred of Saddam Hussain.
We then had intervention in Afghanistan – another somewhat dubiously based intervention.
Both conflicts in which our armed services acted, as those before them had done, with courage and fortitude far above that which is expected of any human being
A major point I suppose is that following the conflicts once the fighting is over peace has to and had to be established.
From WW1 and WW2, Palestine, Aden, Falklands Islands, Iraq, Afghanistan to Northern Ireland and other conflicts the UK Government of the time sat down and talked with many who we regarded as terrorists and murderous dictatorial regimes.
The fact is every UK Government and Prime Minister since the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 when Britain found she had the freedom to dominate world trade and build the largest Empire ever known has had to make peace after war.
Which of course also applies to the current Government who has negotiated terms and treaties with dictators and despots across the globe in Iraq, Afghanistan, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia et al
Whenever I hear politicians talk of armed conflict in which the UK might become embroiled I cannot help asking myself “didn’t we sell arms to them all”?
And yes I am more sceptical of my country being involved in another ‘just war’ given the level of integrity of the current crop of politicians.
But if we do then I will as always be totally committed and supportive of our armed services personnel
But support the politicians?
That is another question.
We constantly hear the Conservative Ministers and MP’s regularly praise the armed services whilst at the same time they are betraying them with sub-standard equipment, poor housing for their families, forced redundancies and reduced support when they leave the services which has seen so many end up destitute and on the streets or in prison
For balance I should say this equally applies to the previous Labour Government.
So really not much has changed since the return of the heroes in 1918 with troops still being regarded by the Government as an unnecessary burden on the tax payer until they are of course needed.
Or as Rudyard Kipling put it in his poem Tommy –
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” … when the trooper’s on the tide
So what is the purpose of writing these memories?
It is this.
We have seen over recent years a politicisation of the remembrance parade by the Government and especially Members of Parliament who turn up wearing what I can only describe as their “I really care” faces to lay a wreath at a Cenotaph and then immediately go back to destroying the morale of the current serving personnel.
I absolutely refuse to attend a Remembrance Service where MPs are present because the thought of standing alongside the hypocrites whilst watching those proud people who served would just be too much.
Instead I’ll do what I’ve done for a number of years and attend a small multi faith – and yes I know I don’t believe but Remembrance isn’t in my view a religious occasion – service at out local War Memorial.
This year I’ll find somewhere to sit quietly and think of my ancestors and their fallen comrades as well as those who I knew and who paid the ultimate price of war.
I’ll take my medals and our dads and keep them in my pocket –
Why I don’t really know, perhaps it’s guilt that I’m still here – thankfully and gratefully – perhaps it’s just because I don’t need them to remind me.
An added bonus in a local service is there won’t be any politicians there only people who really do care
There will just be me and my thoughts of those who ……
And what might have been……
And thanks for everything they have given….
And that’s where it ends.