This fortnight’s post is a departure from the usual themes on the Napoleonic Wars.
Remembrance Day is fast approaching. It is a moment when the entire country fall silent, united in an act of respect, and gratitude for the sacrifice that millions of people, from all nationalities have made in conflicts past and present.
For those who aren’t aware, the time is a deeply significant one. At 11am, on the 11th November 1918, the armistice (ceasefire) that ended World War One came into effect. World War One was the first conflict to see killing on an industrial scale. Estimates suggest that, in Britain alone, nearly 1 million men were killed, and another 1½ million were wounded, although any estimates can only be rough ones at best.
At the time, WW1 was described as ‘the War to End All Wars’. Sadly we now know that that wasn’t the case. At the time, the nation was unified in grief, and as the British government did not, for a number of reasons, bring the dead back to the UK, millions of families across the country did not have a place to go in order to grieve. (Travelling abroad was far too expensive for most people to be able to afford it in the 1920s).
To try and help ease this pain, many towns and parishes formed associations to build their own memorials. Most of the money to build these came from local people. This is why almost every town has a war memorial, at which a service is now held every year to mark the fallen in conflicts since WW1.
Town memorials are a very personal form of local history. If you family has lived in the area for a few generations, you may be able to find the names of relatives on your local memorial, as each memorial bears the names of every local man who was killed fighting for the army, navy or air force in WW1. The names of those who died in WW2 were added later.
Whether you have a personal connection to the local memorial or not, I would urge you to find out where it is, and attend a local service on Remembrance Sunday, or Remembrance Day itself. Those people died protecting our freedom, defending our rights. They gave their lives so that we could continue to live without living under oppression. They gave their lives. Surely you can give them two minutes of yours?
I also urge people to support the Poppy appeal, and wear their poppy with pride. The Poppy appeal was originally called the Haig Appeal, and was set up by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, who had commanded the British Army through much of the war, including at the Battle of the Somme. The Somme saw the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, and, rightly or wrongly, Haig has been blamed by many historians for his role in the battle.
Nonetheless, Haig was deeply moved by the tragic waste of human life, and also saw the impact that the war had had both on those families who had lost loved ones during the war, but also on the survivors, who were suffering from both physical and psychological wounds. He therefore founded the Poppy Appeal to raise money to support those veterans, and chose the symbol of the poppy, which was the first flower to grow on the blood-soaked battlefields of France and Belgium.
Every year now, volunteers give up their time to sell these poppies. The donation can be any size that you think appropriate, as long as it is meaningful to you. So please do donate, and please wear that poppy proudly.
As the saying goes: ‘They 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.’
We WILL remember them.
Please make sure you do.