Wednesday, 11 November 2009

On the 11th hour, at the 11th day, of the 11th month...

When I was 14/15 I went on a school trip to Belgium to see the battlefields of the First World War.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, to be honest I was mainly excited just to be going away on a coach with friends and staying up late and messing about.

But what I saw sobered up my little teenage head.

For what the teachers hadn’t mentioned to us was that the battlefields of World War 1 are also the cemetaries for the men who fell there. It’s unavoidable.

After a few days it almost became too much. Too much to take in – rows upon rows upon rows upon rows of little white headstones, marking the fallen. And too much to cope with – how can your head take in and comprehend those kind of numbers. When someone tells you that nearly 60,000 men died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, your head can’t deal with that, how do you picture it?

It becomes a little easier when you see the graves.

We read the names and read the ages and found the grave of someone that went to our school. We stood at the graves which were simply marked “Unknown Soldier” and I wondered who he belonged to and how their families must have felt never finding their loved ones.

We went to Menin Gate in Ypres and saw the buglers play the last post. They do it every single day. And looked up as far as my eyes could see at the names of the missing soliders, whose remains have never been found. And we saw the Thiepval Memorial, the largest British war memorial in the world and we went to the cemetery behind it and looked at the graves of the men who went out to fight a war for their country, died defending it and never made it home.

We all have our views on war and whether or not we should be fighting those we currently are. But the fact remains that it happened and is happening and regardless of whether it was a wise decision to enter into such battles, there are men and women who go and fight them, and are willing to put down their lives for everyone else.

They are the brave because they have no choice in the matter. It’s what they signed up to do and even if they think it’s lunacy they throw themselves in to the breech.

It is easy to sit at home and scorn when you can do so from the comfort of your armchair.

So I will remember. Remember those who fought for us and those that continue to do so.

Photos taken today at the Hull cenotaph.


Trish said...

Great post. I so agree. I come from a long line of pacifists...from faith and culture. I too,like many of my generation...don't want war. Perhaps we might not even wish to participate in it....feeling the sentiment and political belief welling up at times. But you are right, the fact remains that many many many died fighting for their countries....making sure that freedom to even think the way we do now...that it was protected. So yep,here in Canada we are also celebrating....a remembrance of somber times. I am about to go out the door to the cenotaph...this year alone as the son is off to University and the husband is off to the City to work. I go each the rain...and stand...and remember. tis nearly 11 here....thanks for the post!

Petit Filoux said...

Yep, I agree as well. We did 2min silence in the office, but only just, i guess it's not so easy in an office. I remember going to those fields too when I was at school and it definitely brings it right home.

Dickie said...

I did a similar trip, at a similar age. Only I went with my parents and brothers. I remember being pretty taken aback by it all, because it turned black and white history into something real and tangible. Thiepval is a pretty amazing place.

We went to the Normany beaches as well, where D-Day took place during WW2. That whole area is pretty awesome, for pretty much the same reasons.

It's important to remember these things - and the things people are doing today.

The Curious Cat said...

Very heartfelt post...had goosebumps. I have friends in the army. They really believe passionately in what they are fighting for. I think a lot of what you read in the Media is a load of codswallop from what I'm told by them someways it is disrespectful of them -and what they believe in and are trying to achieve.

It is so hard to fathom what WW1 Battle of Somme must have been like. It is so hard to fathom the magnitude of the holocaust...instead we home in on one brave soul - Wilfred Owen, Anne Frank, a single gravestone...and we try to relate to them to gain some insight and understanding of what they must have gone is a very hard thing to do...but it is a very important thing to do - to try to understand, to try to remember. xxx

Diane said...

Really moving. We always seek out war graves wherever we go in England (you can always find a few in any church yard) just to pay our respect. We drove across the Somme on our way to Paris the other week. It is really beautiful countryside with nothing for mile after mile. It would have looked so different then.

Florence and Mary said...

I can imagine what an eye opening trip that would've been at a younger age.

Victoria xxx