Between the Wars
Volume 59, Number 10, November 2021
Doing our duty LATER this month we will, I hope, see at least some sort of ceremony at the Cenotaph in London and, across the country Church Parades and Services of Remembrance will once again take place after the Covid- enforced cancellations of so many of them in 2020. Inevitably if the Cenotaph march-past does go ahead we will be struck by how much frailer many of the World War II veterans are now and, indeed, how few of them there are left. Last year was, of course, the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and so by simple mathematical deduction you can work out that even the very youngest who fought must be in their 90s and, whether we like it or not, there aren’t that many of them about. There will, one day, come a time when there are none left; will we, I wonder, notice as we did when Harry Patch the “last Tommy” passed away? Will the last survivor of the World’s biggest conflict even know he’s the last one standing? Will anyone realise or will it be too late? Right now there are actually more World War II veterans than you might think, that’s one of the reasons the roll out of the Legion d’Honneur to all surviving Normandy veterans by the French Government was slower than intended, there were simply far too many still alive for the bureaucratic process to keep up. But as is the way of the world that number diminishes all the time and, one day, we’ll wake up and there won’t be anyone left who fought in World War II at all; no one who got sunburned and parched under the desert sun of North Africa, no one who sweated in the jungles of the Far East; no one who froze in a bomber over Berlin or on a ship crossing the Arctic circle. There’ll be nobody left who sat in a landing craft, terrified out of his wits before being forced into the sea off the coast of Normandy to try to wade ashore before a bullet got him; nobody left who jumped at Arnhem or fought across the “bulge” of Belgium. One day those men who were lucky enough to live 75 years longer than so many of their comrades will fade away too and those who are left here, growing old, will be wondering where the heck the time went. What then, I wonder, will happen to the November 11 Remembrance? What will happen to the poppies we wear every year? Will we still feel the need to stand by a War Memorial in the cold wind and rain, still want to remember as we do now? You can understand the veterans wanting to parade, understand why they want to pay their respects to the men they knew, the men they served with. You can understand the “war babies” and even the “baby boomers” wanting to remember, they were the ones whose fathers fought, and came home different men, if they came home at all. You can even understand “Generation X” for wanting to remember, they were the ones who watched the films of great escapes or of bridges too far or those over the River Kwai; they were the ones who played with the Action Men and Airfix soldiers as children, recreating in plastic the battles their grandfathers actually took part in. But after that, what? Will the younger generation, people who never knew a family member who served in World War II, who have never seen a proper war film (they don’t make ‘em like they used to, even Saving Private Ryan was 23 years ago, although Hacksaw Ridge was pretty incredible, I recommend it) will they care in the same way? Inevitably many won’t, many see the whole idea of remembering a war at all as distasteful, I’ve given up trying to explain to those with a certain mind-set that remembrance isn’t glorifying war in any way, but they don’t want to hear that, they want to pretend that wars are all bad and anyone who serves in them is therefore bad too (we all know the type). Thankfully such people are still in the minority and, I hope, will be for many years to come but their number is growing, and whether we will still have full-on Remembrance Services in the future remains to be seen. As we lose those who served and the connection to the past is weakened still further, it is certainly possible that there will one day be a movement to scrap such things as the Cenotaph service altogether. But that is to worry about (and oppose vehemently) later on, for whilst time will inevitably diminish the sense of how important such remembrance is (after all how many of us, if we don’t collect medals to that era, actively remember those killed in the Napoleonic wars or the Crimea?), right now there are still enough people around who understand exactly what it means. There are still enough of us who understand about the sacrifices of the generations who went before and who will, on November 11, remember not only the men whose medals we now hold but everyone who paid the ultimate price to allow us to have what we do today. I said it last year in this “Comment” and I’ll say it now, whilst we still can, we should remember them, we must remember them, we will remember them. It is our duty to do so.
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