I thought I would take time out from Nano to pay respect to our fallen war heroes today. I think most of us know someone whose life has been touched by war, whether it’s a great-grandparent who fought in the First World War or a loved one who is away in Afghanistan right now; it affects us all. Many of us wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the soldiers who fought and died for our freedom.
Sometimes though, when we glorify them as heroes we forget what they were: people just like us. They were sons and brothers (many only teenage boys), fathers and uncles. Though they did heroic acts, they were mere mortals with hopes and fears the same as ours.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine having to face something like that. I couldn’t cope without my comfy bed, clean clothes and three square meals a day, let alone with seeing my friends die around me, and having to risk my life day after day, knowing that today might be my last. But amazingly, they just got on with it; they did what they had to do. They played games, sang songs and even played football in no-man’s land and they also produced some of the most inspiring, touching, heart-felt poetry ever written. It is incredible to me, that even in such desperate, appalling circumstances, human companionship and creativity could flourish.
But we also mustn’t forget the other heroes of war: the nurses and doctors (who often risked their lives on the front line), the home guard (good old dad’s army), the munitions workers (whose skin sometimes turned yellow from the chemicals they handled), the farm labourers and the wives and mothers who were left to bring up the children while they waited for their men to return (if they returned at all). Everyone played their part in the war effort.
The women who took over most of these jobs while the men were at war paved the way for the 60s feminist movement, and maybe we wouldn’t have the equal position in society that we do now, were it not for their hard work, so I think they deserve a special mention. Also, it may seem odd to mention this, but I will also be remembering the conscientious objectors. I admire them for making a stand for what they believed in, and it was criminal that so many of them were killed just because they did not believe in war. They were not cowards, they were heroes too.
I’d like to add that for me today is not just about remembering British heroes either. My heart goes out to the casualties on both sides. The soldiers we called ‘enemies’ were mostly just young lads who didn’t know what they were fighting for, the same as on our side. In war there are no real winners, everyone is a victim. We shouldn’t forget that many other nationalities fought for us during the wars and some of them (such as the Gurkhas) got very little recognition for laying down their lives for us. This is why it saddens me to read about the poppy burning incidents that have taken place recently. While I am appalled by the burning of our remembrance symbol, I am also appalled by the response of many British people who have used it as an excuse to target Muslims with anger and violence. We should be remembering our fallen heroes instead of spreading racism and hatred.
Anyway, I’d like to close with one of my favourite war poems.
‘For the Fallen’, by Laurence Binyon.
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.