Act of Remembrance
Volume 57, Number 10, November 2019
Fading away IT hardly seems credible that it was a year ago that I was writing about some silly students who were campaigning to ensure that Cambridge University Student’s Union didn’t promote Remembrance Day commemorations as such things “glorified war” (see “Editor’s Comment”, November 2018 edition). In the intervening 12 months the country has been focusing very much on another European issue, and you would be forgiven for thinking that Brexit was the only thing on the agenda anywhere. But, of course, we also had the 75th anniversary of D-Day and of Operation Market Garden (rather sadly my great uncle Jack who jumped at Arnhem and was captured passed away before the anniversary but he wouldn’t have minded missing it, he knew he was far luckier than many of his comrades who never got to live into their 90s) and next year we have the 75th anniversary of VE day and then VJ day but how many, I wonder, will fade away in the intervening months like Uncle Jack did and not see those commemorations? We all grew up knowing someone who fought in World War II, our fathers, uncles, great uncles or grandfathers; maybe we are still privileged enough to be able to know some of those old soldiers, sailors and airmen today (I am hoping Lewis Trinder, a veteran of both the Normandy campaign and the Arctic Convoys will once again be collecting money for the Royal British Legion at the Aldershot Medal show on November 3, come along and say hello to him if you can) but we are all acutely aware that we know of far more who are no longer with us than who are. That is the inevitability of time, these old servicemen (and I say men but of course the servicewomen did their part too) will all, one day, fade away and before we know it we will be down to just one or two who will, I am sure, be feted and adored by the media just as Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, the last British World War I veterans, were. Then there will be none and our concept of remembrance will, I think, change forever. Yes there will be veterans, there will always be veterans, but the wars post 1945 are often mired in controversy and in this woke and politically correct age I fear that commemorating those who fought and died in places like Korea, Malaysia and Borneo will not be uppermost in many people’s minds. Those who served in Northern Ireland are already being conveniently brushed aside (or worse, I won’t comment further) and those who served in the two Gulf conflicts and in Afghanistan are finding that because those campaigns are looked down on with disdain by many, so too are those who fought in them. Perhaps only veterans of the Falklands Conflict can escape the march of Political Correctness unscathed, after all that war was one fought to defend British Sovereign territory from a foreign invasion, but even there we find people eager to tell us how the Argentines were all conscripts and because Thatcher torpedoed the General Belgrano she was a war criminal and thus anyone associated with the war should be branded a criminal too. I exaggerate only slightly. The fact is that World War II was fought against the horrors of Nazism that was spreading across Europe and this makes it just about an “acceptable” war to those on both sides of the political debate. No right-on activist can complain about Normandy veterans standing to shaky attention on November 11 because they know that without them the fascists would have won. But when the last World War II veteran passes away the gloves will, I think, come off and when it is suggested that we commemorate those who fought and died in Afghanistan or Iraq there will, inevitably, be howls of protest and, tragically, there will be those who listen to such voices. I hope, I fervently hope, that those eager to politicise remembrance day will stop and think for just a second and realise that we remember those who died not because of the wars in which they fought, whether right or wrong, but because of who they were and what they did; to quote a poem from a much earlier conflict “theirs not to make reply; theirs not to reason why; theirs but to do and die”. Whatever our feelings on the rights or wrongs of a conflict we must never forget those who served in it, as medal collectors I am sure we never will, I just hope that as the last few World War II veterans begin to leave us and different wars come to the fore that others have the same thoughts and feelings as we do.
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