every year, i buy a poppy. normally i loose it, and buy another. i enjoy talking to the volunteers who brave the English winter to stand on street corners, inspired by their humility. such a seemingly small act which speaks volumes about the common humanity we all share.
but every year, particularly as i have become to engage more in the political process, i worry that we are beginning to see remembrance as simply an act of paying tribute to those who died, and not an excercise in honouring their memory. by that, I mean as fewer survivors of the wars which engulfed the world exist, we are seemingly less concered by the realities of war.
Spike Milligan’s account of his experience in the trenches is as joyful as it is soul-searchingly bleak. my own relatives who served, in particularly my grandad, have always been rather caged about talking about their experiences. in one rare conversation on the topic, my grandad simply said the number of friends he lost in battle was the one defining theme of all his memories.
it seems strange that, despite studying the both world wars in some detail, I struggle to recall any meaningful discussion of the actual frontlines. tactical errors at galipolli, international diplomacy at munich, the effect of the globa depression, the list goes on of areas i recall with some clarity. yet aside from odd bits of poetry, or a black and white photo, the most meaningful memory about the harrowing nature of conflict I have from school is when Edmund Blackadder et al went over the top.
With that in mind, I think it is worth reading this 2004 interview with Harry Patch, the last survivor of Passchendaele, who sadly passed away earlier this year. There’s also an audio interview with the Today programme, from 2005, here.
The final paragraph of the interview sums up what remembrance has come to mean for me:
“We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language
I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?”