Today we remember the brave servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Whatever you personally think of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, this is the time to wear your poppy and give thanks to those who have, and who are, serving in our forces around the world. Let us also not forget all of the veterans and injured personnel who have to live with life changing injuries. Men who have lost limbs or their eyesight to roadside bombs or have to deal with crippling PTSD and who receive little or no help from the government.
Charities are struggling to cope with the numbers of veterans who need help (There are now believed to be 190,00 veterans in the UK) and suicide rates are very high among them. More soldiers committed suicide after The Falklands than during the actual conflict and the Gulf War is heading the same way. So please don’t forget them after today, charities like Help for Heroes need money all year round. We ask them to fight for our ideals and freedoms and the least we can do is look after them properly when they come home.
I have a personal reason for wanting to pay tribute to those who are willing to fight for my freedom. Both of my grandfathers fought in WW2. Grandad Bill fought with Slim and the 14th Army in Burma. As a member of the Royal Artillery he was an observer and as such, was in the front line for long periods. He was present at the battles of Imphal and Kohima and was seriously injured at the battle of Mandalay. Even though he died in 1979 he was officially classed as a war casualty because he died of the injuries sustained at Mandalay.
Grandad George was in the RAF, I don’t know much about his war record as he died when I was a few weeks old but I do know that he was in Bergen-Belsen when it was liberated but would never discuss with anyone the horrors he saw there. He was on HMS Belfast sailing to India when peace was declared.
Last year, while researching my family tree I discovered that I had a Great, Great Uncle who had died in WW1. Private George Joseph Britten had joined the East Surrey regiment in 1914 and was posted to France in November 1914. He was awarded the Silver star in January 1915 and in February 1915 found himself in Ypres. Valentines Day 1915 he was on patrol when they came under heavy machine gun fire. The platoon retreated back to the trenches but George and seven colleagues were left in No mans land. Georges body was never recovered. He is listed on the Menin Gate as having no known grave.
As someone who has never felt the urge to put Combats on, pick up a rifle and take the fight to the enemy, I have huge respect to those men and women who volunteer to do so. If you are like me then the least you can do is drop a quid in the box, wear your poppy with pride and say a pray for all our guys and girls out in Afghanistan today.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.