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   Veterans Issues - Remembrance


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Introduction - What is remembrance?

'In Britain we remember those no longer serving, including those who have died for their country; for we in this nation have a deep and abiding respect for our past'. [1] It is a fundamental characteristic of human nature to remember and commemorate the fallen, not merely for the sake of our own peace of mind, but for the instruction of future generations that they might recognise the price of freedom. Of course what we choose to remember, defines us both individually and collectively. Remembrance functions on a number of levels, some deeply personal. It will mean different things to the comrade, the spouse, family, friends, children and grandchildren, - not forgetting the ordinary member of the wider society paying homage to the sacrifice of the fallen. Correspondingly, as the generations that fought our two World Wars pass, the oral tradition that connects us to these events fades by degrees and the duty of remembrance devolves to those of us who thankfully have not known war. All this can seem ancient history, but the name of Fusilier Stephen Satchell inscribed on the Old Town War Memorial at Rye, East Sussex proves that it is not. He was killed in a 'friendly fire' incident in the Gulf War in 1991. Until the day comes when nations learn how to resolve their differences without the exercise of military force, remembrance will be a permanent feature of our existence. No longer does a quarter guard march down the hill from Howe Barracks to Canterbury Cathedral to turn a page of the Regimental Book of Remembrance and present arms. Those days are gone. Over the last half century British society has changed radically and the military no longer occupies so immediate or central a role in our society. However, the sacrifice of those who earned our freedoms is not forgotten and it is on Remembrance Sunday, on the Sunday nearest 11th November that the Nation led by the Monarch, honours its war dead at the Cenotaph. Standing armed forces are a relatively modern development, Britain's small permanent army only being founded in the 17th century. Prior to the 20th century, the battles fought by the British engaged relatively small numbers and would be resolved within a day. Few enough casualties would be sustained to be interred in a mass grave. The bodies of officers would often be repatriated. 'As wars became larger in scale and were fought by conscripted soldiers rather than by small professional armies, so the popular concern for the fate of the individual soldier increased'. [2] In 1914 the nations of Europe went to war. By the close of that year, a line of unbroken opposing trenches had been established from the Belgian coast to Switzerland. The static nature of this new kind of warfare ensured that this would be a war of attrition, engaging men and materiel in numbers hitherto unimaginable. The Marne, Mons, Loos, Gallipoli, Ypres, The Somme, all became household names, as the life or death struggle between the Allies and the Central Powers dragged on for four long years. Britain and her Empire sustained 1,104,890 fallen in this war. [3] The immensity of these losses was of a magnitude inconceivable to the British People. The death of a loved one is hard enough to bear under any circumstances. To bear it without the normal rites of passage can only compound the trauma for those left behind. The outpouring of public grief that followed these momentous events seared the national consciousness and crystallised into the annual National Ceremony of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the two minutes silence, our war memorials and our museums. The creation of formalised modes of remembrance dates from this period. Remembrance also serves another purpose, applicable to any nation in any age. In the words of one wise old warrior: 'The willingness with which our young people serve in any war, no matter how justified, will be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation'. [4]


 
[1] Her Majesty The Queen's Jubilee Address to the Armed Services, broadcast on BFBS 26th June 2002.
[2] Gavin Stamp Silent Cities.
[3] Fabian Ware The Immortal Heritage.
[4] George Washington.


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