The 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, 1918.
Every year we see this rather odd ritual. Old men, in suits smelling of mothballs, wearing ribbons and medals on their chest, parading up and down our streets and squares. To most of the children who see them, it must seem strange. Each year and another war has begun. Children, why is this so? Well it is because we have failed in a promise. Failed to learn a lesson and failed to pass that lesson on to you, our children. What is all the fuss about? The air we breathe, is a result of the pain and suffering the "Old Contemptibles" endured.
In 2009 the last two British soldiers who fought and survived the horror of WW 1 died, they have joined their comrades.
Henry Allingham & Harry Patch
So my friends, let us go back through the mists of time and remember….. The date: July 1st 1916. The time 07.00 hours. The place: Somme, France.
They came from towns and villages from Astbury to Zennor. Amiens to Z…. They came from the farms, offices, factories and public schools. Pals from Manchester. Scousers, Brummies, Scots,Geordies,Taffies & Frenchies. They came from towns and villages often so small no one has ever heard of them. They left behind, mothers, fathers, wives, sweethearts, siblings and children. They left behind their country. It wasn’t for adventure or glory that they came, though some hoped for it. They came because their way of life was threatened.
This is not a place of budding poppies or neat white crosses….. There is nothing to inspire or evoke greatness, only acrid, oily smoke filling the air and stinging the eyes. The cachophony of heavy guns is so deafening it is impossible to think. Then there is silence, pierced by shrill whistles. You advance, the straps of your backpack, biting into your shoulder blades, step by step, rifle in hand, you advance, through a hail of machine gun fire, to Montauban, an impossible objective. Then again silence. You crumble and fall. You are dead. Those who live lay in the mud, with the stink of your stale blood, and rotting flesh. The stench of cordite is your sacramental incense. They lay with bodies torn apart for hours, sometimes days, slowly dying. They suffer for each breath you and I take for granted. All they want is to see loved ones a last, final time……
Observe the glory of war, for the only glory here is in surviving it. Many of them are still in their teens, so young they are little more than children. Many do not understand why they are dying, because the pain has taken their reason. But we know why. They went because it was important to continue to have the freedoms we now enjoy. They went because the world was being threatened by tyranny and oppression. They went to defend a way of life. There is no grave, no white cross, only his name, JAMES HAROLD BOARDMAN is engraved on a marble tablet, and in the hearts of his family.
22.05.1885 – 01.07.1916
Since that day, when my Great Uncle died, the list of battlefields grows: Verdun, El Alemein, Normandy, Burma, Korea, Malaya, Kenya, Aden, Falklands, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. The list is endless, each one a foreign field, wet with British blood.My children, at the end of "The War to end Wars", a promise was made. The nation promised that it would remember all they endured and honour them for it. Those that were left promised that they would learn and try to do better, so that no more of our people would die on our behalf. Let us remember that there is a cost for freedom and that these men paid the ultimate price, for our freedom. So please, always remember them.
[ inspired by an original piece by D Mulligan.]
For the Fallen
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 condemn.
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.
10 August 1869 – 10 March 1943
Poppy Field – Canguedoc France.