In common with most of my generation, who can personally remember living through the effects of the Second World War, though being a child at the time, I did not fully comprehend the reasons why my Dad was not living with us all the time; serving as he did within the old R.E.M.E.; I did understand that things were different. Memories still retained of my Mum and my brothers and I going to sleep on two mattresses laid side by side, under the problematic cover of a home-built indoor air-raid shelter in our front room in Newcastle on Tyne. I believe I remember the sounds of the Ack-Ack guns as they sent their shells skywards; but don’t remember any sounds of enemy bombers. Memories of the comfort brought to my mother and grandmother by a visit from my uncle in soldier’s uniform, on what was to be his last leave home before D-Day, and then dying in a ‘friendly-fire’ strike in Normandy. I remember the fleeting visits of my Dad on short leaves, in the last year of the War. I remember the ceremonial raising of the barrage balloon which helped protect the Scotswood Road armament factories.
In small villages, in minor towns and great cities alike, the War Memorials bloom crimson every November. Those 68,000 memorials; small, large, simple, extravagant, built and laid out in their grave and somber glory to remember the literal thousands who died in the ‘mincing machines’ of Ypres, Verdun, the Somme and all along the hundreds of miles of trenches of France and Belgium, from the killing-fields of Gallipoli to the heat of Iraq and the steam of East Africa. Also recalled were the thousands who died at sea; or in the air in those primitive yet deadly aircraft which carried the newly-invented airborne war to the enemy. The Memorials were built for that Remembrance, as so many of those who died were simply either buried hastily, lost in the mud or buried and the records forgotten. They are a sacred reminder that we went to War twice in thirty years against the same Nation, We declared War in 1914 firstly in accord with treaties which tied us to a certain course of action, and secondly to defeat an arrogant Teutonic nation which believed that it had the authority to rule, to annex and to invade.
We went to War again in 1939 after the British Establishment appeasers had been defeated, after the Nazi invasion of Poland was seen for what it was; yet another attempt to see the Hitler dream of ‘lebensraum’ without any response from a World which was tired of War, and didn’t really want to know! When those level tones of Neville Chamberlain, a decent man caught between the delusion of treating with a lying and deceitful Nazi Germany, the appeasers who claimed Hitler’s was a ‘good’ dictatorship, and the knowledge that Churchill, the ‘warmonger’ had been right all along: were finally heard stating the words he hated to have to say ‘I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.’: we should have made the extra spaces ready on those silent Memorials; because, over the next six years those spaces were surely filled.
The main memories of their sacrifice run through those two great conflicts, with subsequent efforts to add to the total of dead paling into insignificance against the millions who died in World Wars One & Two; but do not let the numbers deflect from the truth, we went to war for the right reasons. Our military leaders did not perform with distinction, as our soldiers, sailors and air force did, for those leaders were of a generation blinkered by out-dated training and a mind-set which favoured cavalry; but the very ideals why we fought was perhaps stated best by remembering the ideals of Winston Spencer Churchill in his writing ‘In War: Resolution; In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity’.
The Second World War found us greatly unready in many areas, but, owing to the high ideals of a few scientists, designers and military people, aided by the foresight of that same Churchill mentioned previously, we had radar, we had the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy was sufficient to the task, and of course, we had Bletchley Park. King George the Sixth during his first War broadcast, when he said of Hitler’s Germany and its actions: “‘Such a principle, stripped of all disguise, is surely the mere primitive doctrine that might is right” We made many mistakes; we, as a nation, lost a portion of the flower of yet another generation during this second conflict, but we were ready, and, with the support of our Empire and Commonwealth Allies, with the whole-hearted backing of the British people: together with the unbelievable luck of gaining the United States of America as a willing and genuine Ally after the unbelievably stupid Japanese attack on America’s fleet at Pearl Harbour, we went forwards, alongside the strangest of allies in Soviet Russia; despite many failures and set-backs, to final victory in Europe and in the Pacific.
The spaces on those early memorials quickly filled up, but not one died in the cause of a search for ‘Lebensraum’, but rather to defend those who were attacked. We only found out the ultimate evil which gestated in the entrails of Nazi Germany when the extermination camps were overrun: it was only then we found out that the sacrifice of so many men and women in Great Britain’s crusade against Hitler’s Germany was, and had been, so necessary.
The other conflicts where, in later years, we fought against the passage of times and politics, where we tried to keep sway over peoples whom were ready to rule themselves. Again, we made mistakes, but, we left. Some of the nations created have done well, others resiled into despotism. The latter conflicts; Iraq * 2, Afghanistan, should never have happened, but they did, and we left British blood in both dusty, savage lands who did not wish us welcome, and did not cheer us on our departure.
We built an Empire on a position that we knew better how things should be run in countries a hundred times as large as Britain, we fought against a French despot in Napoleon, we made nations, we sent forth a legal system which is still regarded as one of the best; but, today, we still regard with awe the volunteers who flocked to the Standard at the call.