It’s that time of year again… we all don our red poppies, turn on the telly and, perhaps with one eye on something else, we watch the old gents in their medals at the Remembrance service at Whitehall.
Of course with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan at the forefront of everyone’s mind, this ceremonial remembrance has become poignant once again. To date 385 serving members of the British Armed Forces have been killed in action in Afghanistan and I know they will be well remembered today.
With nearly an entire century since the start of the Great War, the harrowing experience of trench warfare has long disappeared from living memory. Yet this is where it all started. Two days before Armistice was declared in 1918, Moina Belle Michael was on duty at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ headquarters in New York. Finding a moment to herself she flicked through the November edition of “Ladies Home Journal” and found John McCrae’s famous poem written in 1915:
So inspired, it was at this moment she vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders fields in memory of those killed in the Great War and encouraged others to do the same. The poppy has since become an international symbol of remembrance.
Such was the devastation caused by this horrific conflict of attrition, the general public could not forget the sacrifices made by their young men on the front. This war left very few families and communities alone; the total number of military and civilian casualties was over 35 million. One of those was my Great Great Uncle Harry, killed at Passchendaele in 1917.
I know very little about him, except that he was an ordinary young man who had his whole life ahead of him. I’m very pleased we have this photograph and I hope he won’t mind my sharing it with you.
Harry belongs to a simpler era and in many ways I’m envious. I know his family played cards together every Friday evening and we still have letters and postcards they wrote to each other. Relatively naive to the ways of the world beyond their own, they had simple ambitions and took genuine contentment from a task well done.
Today’s world moves much more quickly; we enjoy instantaneous communication, social mobility and an abundance of knowledge and opportunity, all of which would have baffled Harry. We are busy people and once one task is completed we have little time to congratulate ourselves before moving on to the next.
So today I’m slowing down. Taking a moment out to write this short tribute and reflect on what might have been for Harry and all those like him. Saying thank you.