Remembrance Day is an important day, particularly this year as we mark the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War One.
As well as remembering the sacrifice of those who died in wars that seem a long time ago, today we remember sacrifices in more recent wars and operations still going on today. The freedom we live in – a freedom that is often taken for granted – is ours because of those who fought for us many years ago as well as because of those who defend us at home and abroad today.
Memory Keeping from World War One
I remember my late Grandfather telling me about the First World War. He left out the worst bits but still conveying a sense of just how terrible it was. He talked about rats, painful, “stinking trench foot”, canned bully beef, precious tea rations and how “sometimes the food wagons didn’t get through”.
Grandpa remembered his commanding officer handing him a razor and saying to the fifteen year old boy standing in front of him, “Private, I think it’s time you started to shave.”
My Grandfather was born on July 25, 1899 but his attestation papers list his birth date as July 25, 1898. Like so many others, my grandfather headed off to fight for freedom and democracy in 1914, so eager to be of service to their countries that a small lie about their birth date was worth the risk. It didn’t matter to the enlisting officers, so desperate were they for soldiers – even boy soldiers – at the front.
Grandpa was wounded on the Somme, near Amiens in France, age 16. He was shot by a sniper while crawling forward in the mud to lay communication cables. He lay in the mud of no man’s land for hours through the night, not moving so the snipers would think they had killed him. Grandpa spoke of the desperate fear of being shot again, and not really knowing how badly he was wounded. His comrades found him during the morning’s advance.
His recovery took a long time. Infection set in over and over again, and from the notes in his attestation papers, at time the prognosis was bleak. He spent many months in Bristol, England, and then at a hospital at Bearwood, a stately home (now a school). Funnily enough, it’s just up the road from where I now live. However, while the recovery may have been long, Grandpa survived. Millions – including his own stepfather – did not.
Our Freedom Was Preserved By Men, Women and Children
This year I’m wearing a special Remembrance Day pin in memory of the women who gave their lives during World War One. Their contribution wasn’t really even talked about until recent years. However, the women who worked in factories and kept the home fires burning, to those who tended the wounded and dying in unimaginable conditions at the front, those who drove munitions trucks and even flew planes in combat, all made a huge contribution to bringing back peace. Many of them died for it.
If we truly think about the horrors of war, and try to imagine what it must really be like, perhaps we will think a bit more seriously about keeping the peace. I’m certain that is what many of those who have given their lives would want more than anything.
Those Who Survive Are Forever Changed
So many people have given their lives fighting for our freedom and keeping the peace throughout the years. There are those who come home alive but for forever changed – the wounded, permanently disabled, and those with mental scars that may never heal.
The Sacrifice Still Goes On
On Remembrance Day we also remember the military families, those who have lost loved ones and so many who wait at home and pray. There are millions of these wonderful souls all over the world doing something amazing for us every day by “keeping the home fires burning”. They are braver than I can ever imagine having to be. The very least we can do is acknowledge and remember that.
Today on Remembrance Day, I will stop in silence and remember the millions of people who fought and are fighting for my freedom. I will remember those who died, those who live, and all their families – and I will say a silent thank you.
Their sacrifice means we enjoy the kind of freedom many in the world only dream about. I owe them a far greater debt than I can ever repay. The least I can do is spend two minutes silently paying tribute to them on Remembrance Day.
Remembering the Fallen
I hope that wherever you might be at 11am your time on November 11 that you will join me in two minutes of silence. Join me to remember those who died, those who were forever changed, and their families – as well as those who still sacrifice today.
“They shall grow not 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.”
Laurence Binyon 1869-1943