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Friday, 11 November 2011

11th hour, 11th day, 11th month, 11th year

Somehow the two minute silence to mark Armistice Day seemed to be a bit more poignant because of the date, though we are still 7 years short of the centenary of the end of World War One.    The deaths of British service personnel in Afghanistan, and the loss of another Red Arrow pilot reminds us that the Ultimate Sacrifice for Queen and Country is not something that belongs to the distant past; that is is still very much in the present, and maybe worse still is still very much in the future.

My father serviced in the Royal Flying Corps in WW1 and was lucky enough to be injured when he was having aerial gunnery training and the plane cracked up in mid-air and he spent months in a splint only able to move his head and arms.  He didn't endure the trenches and went on to serve in the Royal Air Force in WW2, when my mother was in the WAAFs.  It is the sense of community and doing something for, and with, others that seems to be lacking these days.  Where did we lose the sense of Us; when did it become a sense of Me as being the most important thing.

Having been born in the 1960's I can look back of the World Wars as taking place between 1914 - 1918 and 1939 - 1945.  But I often think of those who lived through those wars, the impact it had on their entire existence, and the fact that they didn't know that the War would end on x date.  With WW2 there was at least a sense that the war was being won, and that there would be an end in sight.  But WW1 - endless slaughter that just seemed to be going no where.

I think that the older I get, and in my case having to face my own mortality, the more I appreciate the sacrifices of such wars.  We are not just talking about the deaths and injuries, both physical and mental, but the having to do without for a common cause, or having to make do and mend, of trying to maintain the hope that there could be a future of peace and normality.

Maybe it is my cancer diagnosis that makes me feel as though I can empathise with those generations in certain ways.  The endless pursuit of hope and a future that will give me peace and contentment because hope is something you just don't get much of when your cancer is considered incurable.  I think it is from my parents that I get the mentality to just keep trying; of putting one foot in front of the other every day with the idea that if I just keep going it might turn out to be ok.  Such a diagnosis also gives you an appreciation of the uncertainty of life that so many must have felt in WW2 especially.  The need to live today and not worry about what is going to happen tomorrow, well not worry too much.  Who knew when the bomb would drop, the bullet find its target - just get on with the moment that you do have.

Many think that Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday glorify war.  I cannot see that.  It reveres those who made a sacrifice, and it is that sacrifice that is the centre of it all.  The loss of life, the loss of loved ones and friends, the loss of a time of peace and certainty that tomorrow is just another day.  The ranks of those who march past the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday are different from those who marched when I was a child.  They were still those who served in WW1, or even in wars before that such as the Boer Wars and you could sense the pride mingled with the pain of what they had seen and what they had lost.  There are few places in the UK which have no war memorial because their people all came home, and ironically one of them is the village of Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds, near the village that my mother was born.  It is a 'Thankful Village', and doubly so as they lost no one in WW2 either.  How many villages do you visit which have long lists of those who didn't come home, and so many with the same surname.  Those names are engraved by the tears of those communities.  My great-uncle Frederick Courteney Selous died on 17 Jan 1917 and exactly one year later, on 17 Jan 1918 his eldest son Frederick Hatherley Bruce Selous (my mother's cousin) was killed.  It is a sense of pain that none of us wants to begin to think of in any depth because the sense of over riding tragedy can still take hold of us so many years later.  My family were relatively lucky because they were farmers, so were in a reserved occupation, but some who did go were never the same when they came back, or are "buried in some foreign field which is forever England" such as one who was a glider pilot killed at Arnhem.

Today I remember "those who shall grow not old, as we who are left grow old" and I thank those who have served in the past, and who serve now for their country.  Society may not be what they would have hoped it would be but the alternative is too awful to consider.


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