The title of this is intentionally ambiguous being written by an ex-military man who comes from a family with a long history of military service that goes back to great grandfathers and grandfathers who served in WW1 to fathers and uncles who served in WW2.
Loneliness is a strange phenomenon and never more so than when it happens whilst you are surrounded by other people in circumstances and situations in which your life may abruptly come to an end at any moment.
Such a time is when you are just about to go into combat during which for all of the camaraderie you suddenly find yourself alone.
But being alone is not the same as being lonely which is a completely different thing.
Now you may be asking what has started me along this line of reverie and remembering the feeling of loneliness and it is this.
In the United Kingdom at the present time over 8,000 ex- servicemen are serving custodial sentences in Her Majesty’s Prisons many suffering from PTSD – or if you will “Combat Stress” – that once out of the services away from the immediate support of comrades saw them turning to drugs, alcohol , crime and homeless.
In fact they end up in the loneliness place anyone can be not only alone but locked into a loneliness that they cannot describe to anyone who has not been where they’ve been, done what they’ve done or seen what they’ve seen.
They cannot in fact describe how they feel even to those who have been there simply because it is beyond the power of man for all of our intelligence to even begin to describe the feelings.
What veterans do have when they meet however is an innate unspoken and almost visceral understanding.
Perhaps the Prison system in the UK and across the world should take this into account when dealing with those ex-military personnel who have committed crimes that require them by law to serve time.
The other thing that brought this issue of loneliness home to me was that I came across the following letter written by a man called Cecil Burgess who served in the New Zealand Wellington Regiment in WW1 – it’s title being The Lonely Soldier.
If nothing else it is a poignant reminder that a century on we are still a long, long way from understanding how we can Combat the loneliness and isolation of people who were willing to sacrifice everything up to and including their lives for those they left behind.
The Lonely Soldier
By Cecil Burgess .
“When I came back from the war, I landed in Auckland. An uncle of mine came down to meet me from the boat. He took me to his home in Devonport and left me with a couple of aunts of mine. One of the aunts touched the single pip of the Second Lieutenant’s rank on my sleeve and said “What did you get that for?” I didn’t get time to answer. The other aunt said “Kate, you’re not to ask questions. You’re not supposed to ask questions.”
I went home to a father, mother and four sisters and no one ever asked me what it was like. For seventy years no one asked me what it was like”