Today is an incredibly important day. Up and down the country, in every office, on every train platform, in every school, the hustle and bustle of daily life pauses.
The world falls silent, we bow our heads and we remember… We remember those who died so we could live, we remember those who sacrificed their freedoms so we could enjoy ours.
In every single city, town, village, there will be a memorial. There will be a list of names. In every secondary school there will also be a list of names. The names of the brave men, and in some cases just boys, who went to a far corner of a foreign field to fight and die for something much bigger than them, much bigger than any of us.
They died for our future. Sitting in the mud filled trenches at The Somme, waiting for the officer’s whistle and the order to go over the top. Everywhere around them, only death. Hell on earth.
The whistle comes, the charge begins – the crackle of machine gun fire, the thick, choking aroma of the mustard gas, the white hot fizzing shards of shrapnel. For many of those soldiers, these were the last sounds they ever heard. Lest we forget.
Rows of poppies on crosses are laid out in the Field of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey in central London ahead of its official opening. Picture date: Monday November 8, 2021. Victoria Jones
It’s a day, too, to remember those left behind. The women who kept the factories running, the home guard, the air raid wardens. The wives whose husbands never returned, the children who watched, after the war was over, as other peoples fathers came home…but theirs never did.
We remember those who did come back to Blighty, who maybe escaped the physical scars of war but succumbed to those injuries in their own minds from witnessing the horrors of war. The very worst of humanity.
We remember our great allies – the Americans, at times the Russians, the millions of troops from the Empire and Commonwealth. One and a half million from India, 600,000 from Canada, 400,000 Australians, 150,000 South Africans, 129,000 New Zealanders, and more than 100,000 brave souls from the other colonies.
In total around 75 million people died in World War 2, 40 million in World War 1… We remember the innocent civilians who perished in the air raids, we remember the millions of Jews led to the gas chambers at the request of the most evil man to have ever walked the face of this earth.
Just think how different the world would be today if these brave men and women hadn’t laid down their lives – we would be living in a Nazi occupied German colony, there’d probably be swastikas hanging behind me now as I pumped out the Führer’s propaganda.
%22Poppies: Wave and Weeping Window%22, a new artwork comprising of thousands of handcrafted ceramic poppies cascading 30 metres down and pooling within the Air Shard at IWM North in Manchester. The poppy sculptures were originally part of %22Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red%22 at the Tower of London in 2014, and later %22Poppies: Wave and Weeping Window%22 which toured the UK between 2014 and 2018. Picture date: Tuesday November 9, 2021. Peter Byrne
But it’s not just the world wars we remember. The Falkland Islands would be Las Malvinas, they’d be Argentinian. Goodness only knows what Northern Ireland would look like. A genocide would have taken place unabated in Bosnia, Kosovo.
It’s hard for me to make the case for the justification of what took place in Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed I don’t want to. I think those wars were based on lies and there is a certain former leader of this country that I think should be in The Hague…but that’s not what today is about.
It’s about remembering those scenes at Wootton Bassett as the hearses passed through the town, the howling of the wives as their husbands came back to Britain, but would never come home.
We also remember the likes of Lee Rigby, killed by evil terrorists simply because he was proudly wearing his military uniform.
We remember Dennis Hutchings, whose funeral takes place today – we remember his service, but we also remember that we are a deeply flawed nation. It wasn’t the Troubles that killed Dennis, it was this government, who made him stand trial for a third time over the fatal shooting of a man in 1974.
Perhaps today our leaders can have a moment of quiet reflection and think about why they should stop the gratuitous, shameless prosecutions of our brave veterans.
War is a terrible thing, conflict is a terrible thing and it should be avoided at all costs, but when we’ve been called upon as a country, we’ve always answered that call.
We fall silent today, we bow our heads, we listen to the trumpeters, we hear the gun salutes. We bow our heads in sorrow, but also in deep, deep gratitude. For those who died, so that we could live. Lest we forget.