I vividly remember watching with sadness the 2008 Armistice Day commemoration and thinking that, in the not too distant future, the three men whose faces stood out most among the crowd would no longer be present.
Harry Patch, Henry Allington and Bill Stone were of the last surviving veterans of the First World War, and as I heard tragic news of their peaceful deaths – each within the following year – I was taken back to that poignant moment.
I was struck by the thought that, with those inspirational men, died the closest ties we have to the war which was thought to end all others. Sadly, we know that was not the case, though the Great War remains among the most gutting losses of life the planet has ever seen.
The last-standing veterans’ incredible humility made me feel grateful for the fortunate lives we are now all free to live. I feel no less thankful and indebted to all other veterans – and, I regret to say, casualties – of all the conflicts that have occurred since then, and are even ongoing now.
Respecting and remembering those who have fallen for their country – in any war, anywhere in the world – is the right and responsibility of everyone. It is a personal obligation and the very least we, who’ve lived blessed lives a million miles away from the misery of trench warfare, can do to thank the brave thousands who lost their lives in the line of duty.
As we mark 100 years since the outbreak of the cataclysmic conflict back in 1914, we were asked to make the most minute of gestures by turning our lights out in place of a single candle for one hour on Monday evening.
In a world of instant digital communication, iPads and multi-channel TV, switching off for 60 minutes is easier said than done. But the very fact we are so privileged is down to those men, who spent hours on end in dire circumstances, either being eaten away by trench foot or losing themselves to shell shock. It’s also no sacrifice in comparison to that made by those on the homefront, to whom every minute was dedicated to helping the war effort.
We’re incredibly lucky. Many of us don’t realise it, and none of us alive today can ever truly realise just how much. I attended a candlelight vigil in St Mary’s Church to pay my respects, and will always make an effort to remember and teach my future children about the sacrifices made in war. I hope I speak for us all in quoting Laurence Binyon’s now immortal line: ‘We will remember them.’