13 November 2012

They should be remembered

Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday. It was the 11th. Today is recognised as Veterans Day in the United States. To me those days are of huge importance. The men and women who have fought to make and preserve freedom, not just in this country, but around the world deserve to be honoured. I foolishly assumed everyone felt the same way. I was shocked and appalled when I was left explaining the significance of Remembrance Sunday and the "11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month". Not only did people not understand the historical significance, but some did not even realise that it was a day to be celebrated. Callously saying "I had no idea it was veterans day" highlights a larger problem with the younger generation. There seems to be a growing lack of understanding, even lack of respect, for the military and those who serve in it. Supporting a war or a particular government administration is NOT the same thing as showing support for the armed forces. You do not have to agree with war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam or even war in general to recognise that there are thousands of men and women who have selflessly given their all so people can so freely have their own opinions.
 
Tyrants and dictators across the globe keep millions of people under lock and key. Thousands die every week fighting for basic freedoms and necessities that we in the western world take for granted. It is a privilege to live in a country like the United States or Great Britain. I am not saying they are the best countries on the planet, both have their fair share of problems for sure, but the laws that govern those countries provide its people with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, heck even the right to buy an AK 47 (as was so widely proven at the gun show held in my hometown this weekend) These are liberties that people DIED for you to have. How dare some ignorant person simply believe it is what they are entitled to. You, free people of the world, have what you have because someone fought for it. Those who so bravely chose to fight deserve respect, honour and recognition. I was near tears several times yesterday as I continually came face to face with my generation who seemed to care less.
 
History is not every ones interest. I realise that. Just because I love it, doesn't mean everyone has to. But to be informed citizens, to be able to fully enjoy and appreciate the things that we are so generously blessed with, we should also have a least a general knowledge of the road that was travelled to allow for the liberties we enjoy daily.
 
Remember people. Remember the past. Learn from it, yes, but remember. And honour those who so courageously paved the way for our comfortable lives today.
 
Lest we forget.....
 
  *Below are 2 excerpts, the first from 2008 and the second from 2009 regarding Remembrance Day. I would suggest you read them and look at the pictures. Not because my writing is wonderful, but because the pictures alone tell a powerful story of the soldiers who fought for freedom*
 
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

It was the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month that the Great War finally drew to a close. And the world would never be the same again. I do not have the words to describe the war. I don’t think anyone does. Even those who fought in the trenches, who watched comrades fall, who came back wounded, destroyed; even they couldn’t find the words. It was worse than any horror imaginable. The roads leading to the trenches were covered with the bodies of dead men and animals, carcases too laborious to move, bodies too numerous to count . The wrecked shells of supply carts and ambulance waggons lay scattered across the fields. entire plains collapsed and barren due to the heavy artillery bombardments. Shell holes made some areas impassable. The unyielding downpour of rain made travel and life even more difficult, creating slimy pits of mud that simply swallowed equipment and men alike as they passed. Even remaining stationary didn’t help. The platforms and make-shift shelters the men tried to build simply crumbled and sunk; more often than not creating additional causalities. It was atrocious. It was hell.

Today is the day we honour those brave young men who fought in those bloody trenches. Today is the day we honour ALL the brave men and women who have served in the armed forces in some way. Be it the front lines, the sea, the air, the nurses station or the home front. each and every person who has so selflessly given their time, effort and sometimes even life for the protection and defence of country, humanity, life, and freedom. We honour them.


I went to the ceremony today at the cenotaph on Whitehall commemorating to the very day the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. I can not even begin to describe how simply amazing it was. Thousands turned out on this very special of Tuesdays to celebrate and honour the thousands before us who have so bravely served. But today was different. Today was extraordinary. Today Henry Allingham, Williams Stone and Harry Patch all laid wreaths at exactly the 11th hour. Henry and Harry are both 110, Williams is 108. They are the last 3 surviving British vets of the First World War. Mr. Harry Patch is the only, THE ONLY survivor who saw active warfare in the trenches. He served in Passchendaele. (Click here and here to learn more.)

I got to Whitehall nearly 2 hours before the service was scheduled to start. I was determined to have a clear view of the veterans. When I arrived barely after 9am, the street was already filling up. By 10.45 there was not an empty spot of tarmac or sidewalk visible. Thousands had come out to show their respect. When the 3 men were wheeled into sight, deafening cheers and thunderous applause erupted from the crowd. Tears sprang into my eyes and began to pour down my checks. even now as I write this I am beginning to well up. The 3 men were so bravely holding their heads as high as their frail and ageing bodies would allow, gripping their wreaths of poppies. they were remembering. Williams Stone allowed his wreath to be placed on the cenotaph by a member of the Royal Navy, Harry Patch had his placed by a Royal Marine. Henry Allingham refused to give his up. He so badly wanted to lay the wreath himself. but he couldn’t move. he was chocked up, confined to his wheel chair. he was shifting and fidgeting in a futile attempt to place his poppy wreath on the monument. he refused to let go. my tears came even harder. there was not a single eye that was not moist with the heartache that comes only from seeing a once strong, proud, and well decorated war veteran struggle with the simple task of honouring his comrades. He finally released the wreath and it was laid. The imagine of that struggle will forever be implanted in my memory. His determination even at 110, even after 2 World Wars, even after mustard gas poisoning, even after years of hard work, toil, and countless deaths around him...even then he still had his spirit left. he still wanted to be strong. that is true courage. I will never forget the faces of those 3 veterans. It was a honour to see them in person. It was a dream come true.


After the service had ended and the 3 veterans were wheeled to 10 Downing Street, I made my way over to Westminster Abbey. During this time of Remembrance the grounds of the Abbey are covered with crosses, wreaths and poppies. Today, scattered between the rows and rows of make-shift memorials, were numerous veterans spanning all the wars. This must be a proud moment for them. They are honoured regardless of the popularity of the armed forces or of the current war. they are respected. they are looked upon as the heroes they truly are. even more tears fell. I was overwhelmed at the amount of lives impacted by war, both past and current. I have always had a soft spot for the military and I have always been interested in learning more about various conflicts. But today, more so than ever, I was reminded just how important, how truly significant, our war heroes are.



*excerpt from 2009 Remembrance Day...

this remembrance day is eleri's first. i realise that she is just 3 and a half months old and will have no recollection of this time. but its important to me that even from this early of an age she is surrounded by the words, pictures and memories of those who have so bravely served their countries. i want her to remember so that their sacrifices are not forgotten. i want eleri to know, to understand, to care.

I wanted to take her to the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. It was focused on the first world war because, as i mentioned earlier, all the surviving British WWI veterans died this year. it didn't quite work out that way, and we ended up staying home. we read poems, sang songs, looked at pictures and observed the 2 minutes of silence at the 11th hour.

and in an attempt to familiarise my daughter even more with great 'war' moments of the past, i read her all the famous speeches i could think of. i

"we shall fight them on the beaches" winston churchill

"a day that will live in infamy" franklin d roosevelt

"sixteen hours ago" (in reference to the atomic bomb) harry truman

"scorched earth" joesph stalin

"the iron curtain speech" winston churchill

"peace for our time" and "this country is at war with germany" neville chamberlin

"the war to end all wars" woodrow wilson

and at the end of president wilson's speech, eleri started to goo and giggle. i think she missed the poignancy that is remembrance day. all she understood was that her mommy was playing with her. and as she laughed, i started to cry. I was struck with the dichotomy of the situation. i was reading words telling of great destruction and tragedy, stories that recounted the most horrific situations. i was reading the words of war to my sweet, innocent daughter. and it broke my heart.

i cried because the men of the two world wars are dying out. i cried because we still have men and woman fighting and dying in wars even today. i cried because someday she may know the pain of loss that comes with war. and she just kept smiling, goo-ing and laughing.

this day will hold a special place in my heart. i will tell her about her first remembrance day. and when she is older, and can actually understand what courage and sacrifice are honoured on this very special day, we will read through the speeches again.

thank you soldiers past and present. thank you for your selfless sacrifice to help bring peace and security to our world. soldiers, you are not forgotten.

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