To stand, and to remember

Today, Sunday 10th November 2019, is Remembrance Sunday when the people of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth come together to remember those who served, and those serving our country. Not only the ones who paid the ultimate, awful price of war, but those who survived and and suffered the effects of their service, and those who may yet see conflict in our name.

I found this patch of poppies near Elford in the summer. Such beautiful flowers, and so poignant.

All over the country and further afield, men, women and children parade, or stand in silence and reflect on those brave and heroic souls who gave everything for their country – not just in the Great War, but all the conflicts we’ve been involved with before and after.

Please take time out today to consider those that gave, and those who may yet give their lives for us to live in peace and relative prosperity. From the fields of Flandria to the jungles of Burma, from the deserts of Iraq to the frozen waters of the South Atlantic, when their time has come, good and noble people have given their all that we may enjoy better days.

Following the huge outpouring of emotion that was 2018s Remembrance – being as it was the centenary of the end of one of the worst conflicts the world has ever witnessed, the First World War – this year Remembrance has seemed muted but no less powerful for it. Whilst there are less of the huge displays of poppies like the remarkable Poppy Road project in Aldridge, there are plenty of devotional memorials like the Poppy Clock in Pelsall and the remarkable effort in Hednesford.

Wilfred Owen rang the bell loud and clear: The Great War was an inhuman hell and his generation was sacrificed. Thanks to him, we can feel what those lads experienced.

For some fascinating and poignant Great War local history, do pay my dear friend Linda Mason’s blog a visit by clicking here. Linda has written a series of beautifully researched and worded posts about local soldiers that are by turns fascinating, moving and heartbreaking. This brilliant lady is a local history dynamo and deserves a much wider audience.

It’s poignant and heartbreaking that this year we lost one of the people who has shown us so much about the Great War and it’s turbulence locally: Aldridge historian and author Len Boulton. Len was a fine man and one of the prime movers of the Poppy Road project. He was an honest, frank and diligent historian who could tell a story and leave an imprint – he will be sadly missed. He did vital and heartfelt work. Rest in peace, Len – my sympathies to your family and friends.

I will as always continue to document local war history here too – I may have had to slow down a bit in the last year (sorry, but I’m not getting any younger!) but my commitment is no less and I and the contributors to this blog will always endeavour to continue to shine a light on the history of our service folk.

Today I will stand and remember, my yearly duty continues. I have felt the pain of loss, separation and of the sacrifice of others. The veterans I have known – many passed now – haunt my memories and thoughts. I will never, ever forget them or what they went through. On their shoulders we all stand.

It is right and wonderful that we remember these men and women and honour their sacrifice. They fought for this day – a so much better day. Thanks to them all.

Remembrance is not about glory, it’s not about posturing and it’s not about patriotism. The hell that poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon experienced and spoke so eloquently about was not about any of these things. It was about the sheer, unrelenting dehumanisation of armed conflict.

Jack Judge, writer of iconic Great War sing ‘It’s aLong Way to Tipperary’ was a son of Oldbury and the legend of the song is amazing.

I’m relieved to note that most of the posturing and hectoring around Remembrance on social media has been absent this year. The soldiers and other forces folk who gave their all on the battlefields that have ebbed and flowed over the globe in modern times did so to keep us free. In order that we may live without oppression. Their fight was for people to have the freedom to choose, and that includes not joining in acts of overt Remembrance if they choose not to do so.

Remembrance is not about the size of your poppy or donation. It’s about gratitude, solidarity and support. Respect is key.

Please also remember the unsung heroes of the Commonwealth Forces and ANZACs – people who pushed into the very worst battles and fought with huge pride and courage. Redgum’s remarkable ‘I was only nineteen’ was about Vietnam, a war in Which Australia were sadly involved, but the song is timeless. 
The story of an ANZAC who was actually from Norton Canes can be read here.

I also feel that this Remembrance is about not just the dead, the fallen and the human cost; it’s about the gross human folly that is conflict and war. That we still expect young people to give their all after thousands of years of societal evolution is a shame on our civilisation. As Tony Benn once put it ‘…all war can be regarded as a failure of diplomacy’.

Poets like Siegfried Sassoon communicated to us the hell they experienced.

I still of course wholly support the Poppy Appeal, appeals by the Royal British Legion, and Help For Heroes. I am, however concerned that particularly in the latter case, the generosity of the public is being used by the faceless mandarins in government to relieve the burden on state funds. I am unsettled by the business operations and big money directorships in some of the more prominent armed forces charities.

Those injured and bereaved in defence of the state should be compensated and protected by it. It’s the least we can do. While there’s a place for charity, this shouldn’t be a substitute for care of our veterans – of whom a disconcerting number go on to fight the effects long after their service has passed.

It is very sad and a national tragedy that ex-servicemen and women are disproportionately represented in the numbers of the homeless and mentally ill.

Please, if you can, give to one of the many armed forces support charities, a huge list of which can be found here. This year, I’ve personally bought a poppy as usual, but also supported Soldiers off the Street, who seem to be doing particularly vital work

Over a century from the end of a massacre of youth that was settled around a table, it’s important to me that we should remember that it’s the ordinary people who bear the brunt of war; the leaders who declare it are rarely victims. The human cost of armed conflict is massive. We should endeavour, after Remembrance and thanks, to show our huge debt of gratitude by attempting to prevent war occurring.

Harry Patch was a genuinely Great Biton.

It is to humanity’s shame that we appear to have no leaders of the calibre required to do so.

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3 Responses to To stand, and to remember

  1. Mad Old Baggage says:

    Following the service Len’s ashes were scattered on the Croft in Aldridge. I love the idea that if anyone does try anything daft with the Croft Len will be a haunting them!

  2. Mad Old Baggage says:

    And thank you for your kind words 🙂

  3. Pingback: It’s not just about the lost, it’s about those that remain too | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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