Wednesday, 17 November 2010


It's taken me a few days to get this down. It's has been spinning around in my head without "gelling" for some time, even before the 11th.

Fortunately, though,I had one of my 4am moments of clarity, and it all settled into place.

Remembrance causes me problems. Quite deep ones, sometimes.

It's a cliché, but War is Hell. The World conflicts caused death, pain and suffering on a scale we lucky 21st-Century humans have trouble comprehending. WWI in particular ate whole generations, chewing the heart out of entire towns when the "pals" brigades took off.

Today' conflicts cause major headlines when individual troops are injured or killed. Each victim is named on TV.

Undesirable as such deaths are, they pale in comparison to the battle of Passiondale, when each step the Allied lines advanced cost twenty thousand Allied lives, and probably similar numbers of Axis lives.

The thought of such waste chokes me up.

When I stand on parade with my Cubs, I stand behind them so that they cannot see me cry. When I see the ever-smaller group of WWII veterans, when I hear the Ode of Remembrance and the Kohima Epitaph, a real lump comes to my throat. I managed to hold it in during the laying of the wreaths this year, until, instead of being laid on behalf of a regiment or association, one wreath was laid by "The Family of ......". A woman and her two children laid the wreath, and instead of saluting or bowing their heads, the little girl blew a kiss towards the memorial.

Typing that brings a lump to my throat now, three days later. There and then, tears streamed down my face.

Fortunately, I suppose, the weather was foul, and we were standing in the rain.

Later, in the church, a girl in her teens sang, alone, unaccompanied and without a microphone, The Green Fields of France. I don't remember her name, but the song, and the purity of her voice, set me off again.

In case you haven't realised, Remembrance Sunday is an incredibly sad day for me.

But I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Because those deaths, that suffering, were not truly wasted, because they changed the world. Every death changes the world a little bit, for better or worse. The changes wrought by those wars were immense, and, I believe, ultimately to the good for all sides.

And, in between the horrors inflicted by the masses at the will of the politicians, in spite of the glory some found in the horror, some also found joy.

This is what gives me pause; without the millions of deaths in WWI, I would not exist.

My great grandfather was an American serviceman, travelling through Scotland and England for reasons I do not know. On that journey, he met my great grandmother. She accompanied him back to the States, where my grandmother was born not long after.

Things did not work out, and my great grandmother returned to England within a few weeks of my grandmother's birth. He, though, remained in America.

The world turned, as it does, and eventually I came along. Although she is years dead, my grandmother remains one of the most influential people in my life. From her I learned personal honour, national pride (not jingoism), confidence in my abilities, and a love of chess and Scrabble.

She unwittingly gave me an interest in nature and birds, even before my father did, thanks to the copy of the AA Book of British Birds she kept beside the back window, for when she sat and watched the birds eating scraps in the garden.

I loved my grandmother, and miss her still.

I never knew the millions of war-dead, but I regret their loss.

But without that war, great grandfather would never have visited the UK, and, for me, history would have been vastly different.

And my 4am clarity, the gelling moment that summed all this up?

The realisation that I cannot sum all this up. I cannot bring these thoughts to a tidy end, and I must not.

Tidy ends lead to closure.

Closure eases the pain.

Pain eased is pain forgotten, and if we forget the pain of war we will, inevitably, have another, and another and another. Einstein said that he did not know what weapons WW3 would be fought with, but he did know that WW4 would be fought with sticks.

But that's a whole other kettle of emotional scars...

1 comment:

  1. I tried to come up with something comfortingly eloquent that would be appreciated, but - I've got nothing, except that I can so relate to "Remembrance causes me problems. Quite deep ones, sometimes."