Remembering the fallen on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month…Armistice Day.
Growing up Remembrance Day was always very much part of our yearly calendar, at my school and at home we were taught of its importance, what it meant to us and the world around us.
I decided to put my thoughts down ‘on paper’ and this is where they took me!
Over the years I have watched many films based on true war events, read numerous newspaper articles, books, watched news stories, documentaries and TV shows. As a result I’ve become very aware of the reality of war and have always felt a deep sadness for those involved. Under no illusions about the loss and devastation it leaves in its wake I am proud that we remember them all, from all conflicts once a year.
I think about those on the front, feeling like their life was precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff, not knowing if they would be the one to fall that day. After fighting aggressive Leukaemia, facing my own mortality I can empathise a little with this. I have experienced that unbelievably daunting and frightening feeling of being totally exposed and open to death and not feeling safe or secure anymore.
My great uncle James died in WWII, my Dad didn’t know anymore than that, no details of where and how. He knew his regiment and there are a couple of photographs but nothing more. A couple of years ago after painstaking research we discovered his fate, it was a very strange moment, this was someone we’d never met yet we felt really emotional.
He died during the battle of Massicault in Tunisia and we were able to find his war grave, he wasn’t repatriated, which must have been tough for our family. Sadly we don’t know anything about our family’s thoughts on this as no one spoke of it to my Dad, I guess this was quite common at the time. We have been able to get a certificate with a photograph of the cemetery where he is buried which means we can honour his sacrifice with more meaning, he has not been forgotten. Only 31 when he died he left behind a wife, they didn’t have any children. I can only imagine how painful this must have been for her and many others, as well as those who were left fatherless, the legacy affecting them for many years. Some of these people never found love again and spent their rest of their lives missing the one they’d lost having only really had a short time together.
I haven’t lost anyone close to me to any conflicts but still I find that moment of silence on November 11th very poignant and thought provoking. Imagining how they must have felt, the thoughts in their minds in their last moments and I feel so sorry and thankful. To give your life is the ultimate sacrifice so the least I can do is take this time, every year to think, remember and recognise what they suffered for us. I think about those elderly gentlemen still breaking down after all these years when recounting their experiences of witnessing their friends’ lives ended before their eyes. What they endured on the front line, in those cold, wet trenches must have been so utterly bleak and terrifying. After all these years they are still broken by the memories.
Even when the war was over their elation must have been tinged with sadness at the loss of many friends who’d become their world in those wretched, never ending days. The relief of knowing you’d be going home, finally leaving behind those distressing scenes, to the arms of your loved ones only to find it all blemished by survivor guilt and flashbacks.
We can not, should not underestimate the impact this had on people’s lives for many years and for that reason I make sure my daughter knows about our past. She does ask questions about it and I am glad she does, I have told her about our Great Uncle James so now he will be remembered by the next generation. Recently she has been learning about WWII at school including evacuees which I hope continues to be part of the curriculum for future generations.
There have been some beautiful and poignant words written about war, here are some of my favourites…
“When you go home tell them of us and say…For your tomorrow we gave our today” this quote pretty much sums it up for me…so thought provoking.
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them…” For the Fallen – Full Poem
“We are the dead, short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. Loved and were loved and now we lie in Flanders Fields…” In Flanders Fields – Full Poem
And Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Dulce et decorum est’ which is so descriptive and disturbing but a very important part of literary history and record of the front line experience. Reading his poetry you cannot deny the absolutely wretched and sickening reality of it, Wilfred himself was a casualty of the first world war.
“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… Dulce et decorum est ~ Full Poem
For those who don’t know, its title, Dulce et decorum est is Latin and means ‘it is sweet and right’ and the final words are also Latin – Pro patria mori which means ‘to die for one’s country’. The message of Wilfred Owen’s poem is that if you knew the true reality of war you wouldn’t use those words.
Bravery is one human trait I really admire and not only in war situations, I’ve come across and read about some really inspirational people in my life.
“Life is a gift to be used wisely and lived fiercely” ~ Bloodwise the Blood Cancer Charity. Since my diagnosis this thought goes around and around in my head and I’ve certainly taken these words on board.
Go out and make the best of your life… honour those less fortunate by cherishing what you have…