Remembrance Day 2017

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I always feel conflicted this time of year and I use the word deliberately.

When I was growing up in the UK in the 1970s, we were regular churchgoers so of course, we went to church on Remembrance Sunday. It always left me extremely uncomfortable, the talk was about the Glorious Dead and I was beginning to question how being dead was glorious. I was lucky, both my Grandads survived their wars but many of the children I went to school with weren’t so lucky.  Every time I talked about going to see them, someone would say that they never knew their Grandad and wasn’t I the lucky one. It was never meant nastily, it was just fact.

My maternal Grandad was in the Royal Army Medical Corps, called up when conscription started in 1916, he was 22.

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My paternal Grandad was called up in World War II and coincidentally, was also a medic. He was a psychiatric nurse and had the gruesome job of landing in France on Day 2 of the D-Day landings and sorting out who was dead and who wasn’t. He then followed the front line as the soldiers fought their way through France to Germany. Afterwards, he was sent to the Far East, based in India. He had the equally horrific task of finding soldiers who had lost their minds after the atrocities in that region and had gone feral.

He is in the back row, second left.

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I never heard either of them talk about their experiences and I wasn’t aware of them wearing poppies, although they might well have done.

I was also conflicted about what we had won. Britain wasn’t at war but it didn’t feel like a place that was at peace either. Every time the England football team played West Germany, the newspapers were full of hatred and I couldn’t relate to that (it has only recently stopped, 70+ years on).  I was confused as to the “evil” we went to war over in 1914. It was much easier to identify the evil in World War II but I hated the fact that Britain didn’t feel reconciled to peace. Places like Coventry were a light in the darkness.

The 1970s went into the 1980s and the Cold War was still a threat. Greenham Common became the focus of anti-war campaigning. I joined CND. I didn’t want World War III, nuclear destruction and the devastation that would follow if the planet survived. We had already lost a generation of men after The Great War, I didn’t want that to happen again.

Yet I am not a pacifist. I believe there is evil in the world and we need to stand up to it, as individuals and sometimes as a nation. I am grateful that some people chose to fight on my behalf and make the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.

What I want is for war to be the very last response.

I don’t want anyone’s life to end needlessly.

I want our politicians to work harder to find other ways of solving conflicts.

I want our armed forces to have the equipment they need and not to die because of our negligence.

I want business and commerce to run fairly so people don’t live in poverty and feel that violence is their only way of being heard.

I want each person to be more tolerant to those who are different to us and not fear difference.

I am sorry that our weakness as humans leads us to behave inhumanely towards each other. I believe we are better than that. We see greatness in peace and in times of war. Let’s work harder to look less at self and more at others. Let us learn to let go of our self-importance, as individuals and as nations. I am a patriot not at nationalist.  A journalist at the Huffington Post gives this explanation.

Nationalism and patriotism are two words which are often used inter-changeably. This is incorrect since there is a world of difference between the two concepts, in spite of a few shared ideals. While patriotism fundamentally means affection for one’s country and willingness to defend it, nationalism is a more extreme, unforgiving form of allegiance to one’s country. As opposed to patriotism, which involves social conditioning and personal opinion, nationalism involves national identity and the belief that one’s nation and/or its government is supreme.

The legacy of the Great War was the League of Nations created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. We need to be better at doing this so no more people die.

The Royal British Legion is doing a tremendous job and I support them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So good I just had to share it.

I chose this book for our Book Group last year. I confess I didn’t read it. Life unexpectedly got very busy and I was unable to go to our next meeting and I wasn’t going to be there to talk about it, sad but that’s how life is sometimes. However, I recently downloaded it as an audio book and have just spent the last two weeks listening to all 19 hours of it and it is still inside my head and won’t go away.  You know when you’ve read a good book, it stays with you and when you have a quiet moment it pops into your mind and you enjoy it again. This one doesn’t wait for a quiet moment, it shouts at me to take more notice, urges me not to forget any of it and to really hear the messages it delivers. So, here I am, listening to the voices in my head and sharing what I think.

This is the book.

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This is my Goodreads review.

“Probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. One of those books that really gets into your psyche. How do you review a book like that? I suppose I could go on about the plot, how it’s based on the author’s father and draws on his contemporaries’ memories, about how is deals with love on so many different levels, about the times on the Burma railway. There is so much in this book, where do I start? I suggest you read the other reviews, they will explain it better than I can but I can tell you that I read it and then I listed to the author narrate it over 19 hours; he nuanced every single word, he drew out every single pause and gently read the most traumatic scenes with devastating effect. The book addresses the issues of good and evil, right and wrong, nature versus nurture, cause and effect so simply and honestly without being preachy and allows you to make up your own mind only to turn your decision on its head in the next chapter. It deserved the Man Booker Prize of 2014. As the chair of judges said that year “some years, very good books with the Man Booker Prize but this year a masterpiece has won it” Need I say more?”

70th anniversary of the D Day landings

Two days after marking the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, I am sat watching the BBC coverage of the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings from Arromanches, France. I am reminded of the struggle for freedom both events share. The message is clear, we must never take freedom for granted.

My paternal Grandad landed on D Day plus 1. He never spoke to me about it, not sure how much he told my Dad or my Aunty and I am inspired to ask them now so that Grandad’s history won’t be lost. He was a medic and he had the job of sorting out the living from the dead on the beach. After the war he went on to train as a psychiatric nurse and worked at a large institution in Yorkshire. There were many refugees there too and my Dad tells stories of mixing with them; one story is about being told off at school in a German lesson for speaking with an Austrian accent, not knowing that it was because an Austrian Jewish refugee lived and worked at the hospital and helped my Dad with his learning! What those men went though, we shall never know.

The only photo I have of him from the war is this one from when he was stationed in India. He is second on the left, standing.

Grandad Leonard in India

Random thoughts I have picked up from today’s coverage:

These service men didn’t opt to have a military career, they were called up and that’s what they had to do.

They rarely spoke about it when they came back, how much they must have still endured silently.

Many soldiers buried in Normandy following D Day were only aged 16-20, the average age of today’s 600+ survivors is 89.

The incredible civil engineering feat, the building of the Mulberry Harbour, that meant that the landings were supported and sustained.

The extraordinary personal stories that have been related today are so moving, one man saying he knew his role was that of cannon fodder and as he waded ashore, he waded through dead bodies just floating around him and then through more on the beach itself.

This photo represents the fallen bodies on one of the beaches.

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Today no-one glorified war or celebrated it, the day was about remembrance, reconciliation and reflection and passing that message on to the next generation.

For more information follow this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0201qc7

The sense of reconciliation came across strongly in the formal speeches as well as in the personal interviews. Watching the German Prime Minister Angela Merkel take her place and be applauded by the crowd was moving, remembering that the fight for freedom was against Naziism not ordinary Germans who, as one person said today, fought for the same things we did, family and friends.

The sense that there are some occasions when present day issues must be put aside; watching Vladimir Putin was hard, but today he represented the millions of Russians who died in the war not his present politics and it is them we remember not him.

When I was born, it was 18 years since the end of the war in Europe. I was one of the lucky ones at school, I had both my Grandads alive (my maternal Grandad had fought in WWI and was too old to serve in WW2). Many of my generation only had grandmas and I knew I was lucky. And that’s just it, luck. Sometimes no matter how much planning, training and skills are put into practise sometimes it comes down to luck as to who survives and who doesn’t. I think that’s why many veterans feel guilty to have survived, they were no better and no worse than the man stood alongside them.

War and evil still exist in our world and we must be vigilant in protecting our freedom and the freedoms of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Lest we forget.

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