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Nov 102013
 

There is war memorial near to where my parents live which is a little bit special. It is a memorial put up by local people, but unlike other it is not a memorial to the local people who died in the first world war (which were later amended to include those from the second world war) but to commemorate all those young men who marched past on their way to the battlefields of the first world war.

You see, the place where it is overlooks what is now the M3 but used to be a smaller road leading to the same place … the port of Southampton which was the embarkation point of so many young men heading to the battlefields of the first world war.

Shawford Down War Memorial

Whilst it is no grand memorial, it does deserve to be a little better known.

Nov 102013
 

Today (at least it is when I’m writing this) is Remembrance Sunday in the UK; traditionally a day to commemorate the sacrifice of ordinary men in the two world wars.

I did not watch the ceremony at The Cenotaph, or attend any of the more local ceremonies, although I have in the past. But one thing that is a noticeable change since my childhood – there is a much greater emphasis on the sacrifices made by our armed forces in all wars up to and including the present.

Fair enough; I don’t have a problem with commemorating the war dead from any war, but the the armed forces already have a day – Armed Forces Day – and Remembrance Sunday is special. It is special because it remembers the two world wars when ordinary men were called to service in their droves; whereas other wars involved soldiers, sailors, and airmen who had chosen to be shot at for a living.

Before WWI, there was nothing like Remembrance Sunday despite all the wars that the UK fought before – nothing for the Boer War, the Crimean War, the Napoleonic Wars, and nothing before. There were war memorials constructed – as a resident of Portsmouth, I can visit an unusually large number, but as for national ceremonies … excluding the burial of heros such as Nelson, they had to wait until after WWI.

Perhaps we need to move the Armed Forces Day to next to Remembrance Sunday to more clearly distinguish between the two days.

Perhaps we also need to make the commemorations somewhat less military in nature – encourage those whose relatives served in the two world wars to attend in place of them. After all the number of world war veterans is dwindling; it won’t be too long before none of them are left, and it would be a great shame to leave Remembrance Sunday to the politicians and the present-day military.

 

Jul 252009
 

This morning, Harry Patch died. At 111, he was the last of the “Great War”‘s veterans to have fought in the Western trenches and experience the senseless slaughter of trench warfare. One of the “lions led by donkeys”, Harry was an ordinary man who went through extraordinary experiences like countless others. He was lucky enough to survive the war relatively intact physically and mentally.

And he was fortunate enough to live to a great age, outliving all the other veterans of the great war. After he began talking about the war, he became a media celebrity not because he was any more special than any of the other veterans, but because he was still alive and prepared to talk about his experiences.

One thing that may be missed in the media was that he was a dedicated pacifist saying that war was the “calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings” and that “war isn’t worth one life”. And another time: “It wasn’t worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands. T’isn’t worth it…the First World War, if you boil it down, what was it? Nothing but a family row. That’s what caused it”.

We all owe him a debt of gratitude for fighting in WWI, for talking about it afterwards, and perhaps most of all we owe him a debt of gratitude for making it plain that war is not something to celebrate.

Nov 092008
 

Today is Remembrance Sunday; a day to remember those killed in war. It should perhaps be on the 11th November (this year on a Tuesday), but the British government is too cheap to give us all a day off for remembrance.

As this is the 90th anniversary of the armistance of world war i, it is perhaps understandable that some concentrate on the dead of that war. As a general rule one of the things we remember when we remember the dead of the wars, is that they died for our freedom. For the wars since that is definitely on the true side, but perhaps not for WWI …

After all WWI started when the Austrian-Hungarian “dual monarchy” declared war on Serbia after Serbian military intelligence had been involved in assisting the assassination of a Grand-Duke. Russia was pulled in to support Serbia, and the rest of the European ‘powers’ were similarly pulled into the war.

But that is over simplistic – historians are still arguing over the causes of WWI. But what is clear is that there was initially no great villain that needed bringing down although many of the men who volunteered to fight were led to believe (in the case of Britain) that Germany was some sort of great villain.

To those who survived WWI, Rememberance Day was less a day for remembering those who died for our freedom, than just remembering the dead. It is difficult to appreciate the level of casualties today, but one clue is on the lists of the dead given on memorials in almost every little village. Probably just about everyone living in Britain in the 1920s would have been close to someone who had died in WWI.

To put it into statistical terms, Britain lost 2.1% of its population in WWI compared to 0.93% in WWII.

Some of the blame for the horrendous level of casualties can be placed at the door at the incompetant military leadership who took far too long to adjust to 20th century warfare from their 19th century mindsets. Or in the words of more than a few, the British army were “Lions led by donkeys”.

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