Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Our James

Remembrance Day is always sad. This year's commemoration in Coventry last month was even more poignant with the recent deaths of local soldiers because of the war in Afghanistan. James Fullarton, Shaun Bush, Simon Valentine and Louis Carter were all remembered by name during the service and James' parents were in attendance at the War Memorial Park. Peter and Jan Fullarton bravely laid a poppy wreath on the cenotaph on behalf of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. A different kind of bravery to what their son showed but bravery all the same when they are still in mourning and things must be so raw for them.

As a child I found 'war' a fascinating thing. I'm not sure what triggered this - possibly the annual Air Show with its aircraft from WW2, possibly a school trip to the Cathedral ruins where I first learned of its destruction by the Luftwaffe or possibly the countless war films that used to be on TV. The nearby air raid shelters and pill-box at Chrysler / Talbot certainly were an influence. Whatever the reasons were, at a fairly young age I had read a weighty tome about the epic First World War naval Battle of Jutland and a not so weighty but very powerful one describing the destruction of the German city of Dresden in the Second. One Christmas I received two copies of Coventry at war by Alton Douglas, which still remains the best pictorial record of the city during the Second World War. In addition to reading I had hundreds of Airfix and Matchbox 1:32 scale plastic soldiers, die-cast metal aircraft including a Spitfire, a training grenade picked up at Birmingham market, a British tin-helmet with webbing, some sort of German medal, (Iron or Knight's Cross, I'm not sure which) a metal model of the German battleship Scharnhorst and various berets and badges brought from army surplus stores. On a holiday to Tunisia in 1981 we saw remnants of the battle fought between the Desert Rats and the Afrika Korps. We also visited a Commonwealth War Cemetery which was incredibly sad. Row after row of white crosses which marked the passing of so many young lives so far from home. The graves of four young South African's who died when their aircraft was shot down is permanently etched in my memory. Granddad Peter was a cook in the army and served in North Africa. He died years ago but always played soldiers with me when I took them round. I sometimes wonder now what memories, if any, it brought back for him.

I've grown up now and the childhood fascination has been replaced by the grim recognition of the reality of war. It's horrific. I am so glad to have lived in a time free of another global conflagration. Britain of course has been involved in conflicts in every decade since WW2 ended but none have resulted in conscription. It seems a little odd to me that with the end of the cold war some time ago and relative peace in Northern Ireland that we should still be engaged in conflicts in or against nations that often appear to pose no threat to our national security. For some reason when America says 'jump' the UK replies 'how high?' and as a result the brave men and women of our armed forces have their lives put on the line. I fully support our soldiers but don't believe their lives should be wasted in futile wars that cannot be won such as Afghanistan. Bob the Muppet says that Britain's streets are safer because of our involvement in Afghanistan. No one in their right mind seriously believes this do they? If anything our streets are far more dangerous! On the news the other night the police said they had foiled a plot by Algerian terrorists. Will we be invading Algeria next then? Probably not unless some Algerian's carry out a terror attack on the good old US of A.

The parade to the War Memorial Park and the service of remembrance that followed was as dignified as ever. Well done to all concerned and Lest We Forget.

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Our James

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