Tomorrow I will be at the cenotaph for Remembrance Sunday, to pay my respects to all the soldiers, past and present, who offer their lives in service to their country. However tomorrow I will also be thinking of a particular soldier:
Sgt Frederick Neville Woodger, of 3rd South African Infantry Brigade, was killed in action at Butte de Warlencourt on 18 October 1916.
I do not know what he looked like, I do not know how he died and I do not know where his body lies. He is one of the many, many soldiers who have no known grave and his name is among the 72,000 UK and South African officers and men listed on the Thiepval Memorial who lost their lives in the Somme between 1 July 1916, when the offensive began, and 1918. He was also my Great grandfather.
(Thiepval Memorial – reproduced from CWWG website)
Over 90% of those listed on the pale walls you can see above were killed between July and November 1916, in the first War that truly reflected how industrialised the world had become. Shells, machine guns, aerial surveillance, chemical warfare, tanks; to us now, they seem commonplace but then … it was the birth of a new world and it was an exceptionally bloody one.
Yet it was not only death which came out of those trenches; poetry, paintings, the most exquisite carvings and metal work – the ways thise men found of coping with the constant threat of death are still with us now, enriching our lives and our understanding. Wilfred Owen, Seigfried Sassoon, Ford Madox Ford are names we all recognise, works we all know but there are others whose contributions are not well known but none-the-less meaningful. These illustrated letters (photos taken last time I was here at the Imperial War Museum as the WWI galleries are currently closed for a major update) are positively breathtaking, or at least they are to me:
Many of the men who fought and died believed they were participating in the war to end all wars, that their sacrifice would ensure peace for the future generations. We all know that didn’t happen. Personally I do not believe we will ever live in a world without war. That doesn’t make their sacrifice worth any less though, nor does it in any way devalue the ideal.
I know my presence at the cenotaph tomorrow won’t make any difference to anyone but me but I hope that, wherever you are, you can take the time to honour the two minutes silence and remember all those who gave there lives for our freedom and all those who are currently deployed around the world, serving our country to the best of their abilities.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.”
The quote above is from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon.
I have also mused, in the past, on both WWI (In foreign fields ….) and the men and women serving in our armed forces today (Heroes) and I think both those posts are still relevant today.
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