One hundred years ago on Sunday my maternal grandfather and his father-in-law will have been celebrating the end of three years of service in the Royal Engineers, both enlisted volunteers in 1915 before conscription was introduced.
Great-granddad Bracey enlisted at the age of 42. Was he keen to do his bit? I don’t know, but join he did. Although owing to his age and skills he was never posted overseas and finished his war with no worse than a hernia, sustained jumping off a table. What was a man in his 40s doing jumping off a table?
Granddad Stacey was 31 when he signed up, and he wasn’t so lucky, he saw significant service on the Western Front and finished up with a dodgy heart and a pension, necessary because he never fully recovered although he lived in to his seventies.
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In the “second lot” his son-in-law to be, my father, left a safe job in an aircraft factory in 1943 and with a mate trekked to Chatham one weekend to join the Royal Marines with whom he served until 1946.
He survived being blown up on the Normandy beaches to meet and marry my mother. As a child we always knew he had bad feet but never knew it was due to the shrapnel embedded in them. They never got that out until 20 years after the war.
They were lucky ones, they came home, too many didn’t from all over the world.
The World Wars truly were global conflicts as well. That famous newspaper cartoon may have said in 1940 “very well alone”, but of course we were not.
Just as in the First War we were supported by volunteers from across the Dominions and Colonies, from Canada, South Africa, Australia, India including what is now Pakistan, New Zealand, the West Indies, East Africa, West Africa, the Pacific Islands and closer to home Ireland when during the Second War thousands of southern Irish flocked to serve in the British forces.
So when we say on Sunday “we will remember them” let us remember that it was never just us that suffered. All our friends and allies suffered equally and their suffering and losses need to be remembered by us in a spirit of thankfulness for their support.
After a 100 years we need to also remember those we fought against, not the governments but the people, as we remember the Tommies who went “over the top” and got mown down by German machine guns, lets also remember the Fritzs who went over their “top” and got mown down by our machine guns. There is an awful equality in death.
But of course for the millions who died in both wars there were millions who came home, incomplete, missing limbs, terribly burnt and scarred, suffering night terrors, ducking under a table at any loud bang; sufferers of what we nowadays would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
And of course it didn’t stop in 1945 since then wars have stalked across the globe and our soldiers, sailors and airmen have been there and suffered there, just like their fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations did.
They might have returned to heros’ welcomes, but their’s was not the shared experience of hardship and suffering that welded earlier generations together, their suffering is too often born in silence until finally they crack.
It is these people, too, it is important we remember. It is important too that we support the service charities that support all those who suffered for us, the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers, Sailors and Air Force Association and the host of other who work for those who served their country.
You don’t need to have agreed with their wars to agree that they need our support, so dig deep, stick an extra quid or two in when you pick up your poppy.
And please, please pick up a poppy, a red poppy, not a white poppy as promoted and sold by the Peace Pledge Union whose cause is against all wars.
The cause is noble but has nothing to do with remembering the sacrifice of those who gave life, limbs or mental health because their country asked it. It is a by-product of the sixties culture which saw war as useless sacrifice and remembrance as somehow glorifying war. “Oh what a lovely war” has a lot to answer for.
If the PPU want to have a collection day and sell badges or anything else to promote their cause, well and good but to sell white poppies at remembrance is clearly a political act, unless cynically. It is just the best marketing opportunity they have to piggy-back on the RBL’s marketing campaign.
Ultimately, of course, it’s your choice…