Posted by: sommecourt | 12/11/2008

For You Tommy, The War Is Over

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, some ninety years after the guns fell silent, I stood in a  cemetery on the edge of the city of Ypres. It seemed hardly possible that four years had elapsed since I wandered through the same cemetery, musing wildly of the moustached Old Contemptibles who populate this silent city, and who had marched into oblivion along the nearby Menin Road. The war always seemed so long; the 90th anniversaries have certainly proved how quickly time could, and can, pass.

But now it was over. I stood there, looking at a row of graves that covered every year of the war, and thought of Henry Williamson’s description of those events nine decades before. He recalled the myriad of noise that made up the Front; with the Armistice all that came to an end. No shells, no staccato machine-gun fire, no hiss of gas, no crump of shells. Silence. Williamson remembered that what went through his head was one phrase, and one phrase only… it must never happen again.

But of course it wasn’t over, and it did happen again. Facing those graves of 14-18 was another row. In this were dates from the next generation; of men who fell in defence of Ypres once more, in May 1940, and in her liberation four years later. And as the strains of the Last Post echoed in from the Menin Gate, and a slick Flanders rain lashed the headstones, I noticed on the grave of one young Fusilier, “We owe our all to lads like you.”

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