Posted by: sommecourt | 07/11/2011

A Time To Remember

It is at this time of year all our thoughts turn to those who fought and died in the Two World Wars, and subsequent conflicts. For myself, I am lucky that my life has been touched by knowing many veterans, of many different conflicts. I grew up of course with my father and all my uncles, all WW2 veterans, and was lucky to know several hundred Great War veterans whom I interviewed in the 1980s. The last of ‘my’ WW1 veterans died just as I moved to live on the Somme, and I wondered if I would ever know men like that again. But working as a battlefield guide for many years I have been privledged to meet veterans on a regular basis. In the last decade, just as with those from the trenches, I have got to known dozens of WW2 veterans who have become good and valued friends; and I have been fortunate to spend time with them on the battlefields where they fought as young men and women. But it’s not just the World Wars; I’ve spent many a night in the bar of a hotel with a Falklands veteran talking about Bluff Cove or Goose Green, or with a man who defended a sangar in NI and more recently those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. There is often a common thread I’ve seen over three decades of talking to these men; regret at the loss of comrades, sadness that so many acts of bravery go unrewarded or recognised, and a common desire not to tell of their experiences, but at the same time to want to; to share that journey into Hell, to make some sense of it.

At times we don’t know what we owe these men and women, or have any appreciation for what they have done – and in the case of serving veterans – of what they are still doing. I remember being in Normandy some reasons ago when one of the Vets knelt down at a grave, tapped it with his right hand and said ‘son, we owe you a lot… we owe you your life and all that held’. The grave was a sixteen year old Canadian.

War cuts short lives, destroys hope, and makes widows and orphans; there is much more to conflict than what takes place on the battlefield, and even five minutes with a Veteran will help you realise that. We may at times question the motives of war, and the decisions of our politicians, but that is never a reason to forget. Soldiers at the sharp end deserve our recognition, and their families our support.

But knowing Veterans has its sadder side. This year I have said goodbye to several and over the years have seen some not just fade away, but sink into madness or illness, or both. The ‘forgotten wounded’ need to be remembered in equal ranks with the dead.

For most of us thankfully war will never be a reality, but at this time of year especially, we should pause for a while, look for that list of names on the memorial in the town you’ve passed several times, visit that white headstone with a familiar looking badge in the town cemetery, dust off that picture of granddad in his khaki, read a Blog of a serving soldier or his wife, and pin on your poppy with pride. That little splash of red let’s us stand united with all they have achieved, all they have suffered, and it is really the least we can ever do.



  1. Well said Paul.

  2. So very true.

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