WWI: Fifty two months, fifty two posts – 16 – Thoughts on Armistice Day

On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month …

We Will Remember Them.

Courcelette Cemetery – Somme, France – 02/10/2013

I was asked this afternoon what I had thought about during today’s two minutes silence and I said I couldn’t put it into words. But I’ve had a half hour drive since then and so I’m going to try:

It started with snatches of song (tipperary, home fires, pack up your troubles, parlez-vous), lines of poetry (beneath the crosses row on row, froth corrupted lungs, a corner of a foreign field, you’ll be a man my son) and flashes of images (bomb scarred landscapes, bomb scarred men, rows of white headstones); a seething cauldron of memory, none of which was my own.

All I know of WWI has come from research – books, documentaries, novels, films, personal war diaries held in the Imperial War Museum – it’s literally all in my head.

I was not there, I cannot know, I can only imagine.

All those who experienced the realities of fighting on the Eastern and Western fronts are gone.  But that I imagine, and that you imagine, is so important. Not just for WWI but for all the conflicts have been, and those that are happening now. If we don’t remember – if we don’t preserve the memories of what terrible things we have inflicted on one another, keep the sadness and the waste and the horror alive alongside the gratitude and stories of bravery and courage – how can we hope to stop them happening again? Without memory, there is no empathy and with no empathy there is no desire to make change.

Why do we continue to throw ourselves into wars when the horrific consequences are not only known through remembrance but horribly visible on televisions and via social media almost the moment they happen? Is it simply inbuilt in our DNA? After all the human race has fought and died at its own hands since its presence was first felt on this earth. War is the one thing that links all peoples of this world, through every generation. And that being so, is it therefore futile, this hope that some of us have that the belief of those who signed up to fight “The War To End All Wars” will actually come true albeit a hundred years too late?

Some people may say it is, but I am not one of them. Life is precious. This world of ours is precious. We should be working to protect, not destroy. To nurture, not to crush. To understand, not to dominate. We should be seeking common ground, not looking to take control of it.

And now I’m rambling, and asking for things that I have no idea how to deliver, and so I will stop. But I will not stop remembering. Nor will I stop hoping that one day all wars will be just a memory and there will peace.

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