Friday, 31 July 2009

Last Post

Yesterday saw the funeral of Henry Allingham, one of the last 3 British veterans of the 1st World War. Next Thursday, the city I work in will grind to a halt for the funeral of Harry Patch, the last of our servicemen who experienced the Trenches. The only other surviving Brit, Claude Choules, now lives in Australia.

With the passing of Allingham and Patch, the reality of fighting in the Great War has passed out living memory in Britain. While it is inevitable that World War One will eventually become a part of history like Agincourt or Hastings, we need to keep actively remember its reality for as long as possible. We owe it to those who fought for freedom, to those civilians who died on both sides and to our combatants acting out of a similar sense of duty and responsibility to their own countries.

The Great War was the "war to end all wars". The century since has given the lie to this. A second World War was followed by a myriad of other conflicts. Almost daily we hear of another death in Afghanistan. The residents of Wootton Bassett line the streets of their town on a weekly basis as bodies of deceased soldiers are returned for burial.

In this context, remembering past sacrifices becomes both more important and more poignant. The past week should give us pause to reflect on the impact of war. On the human cost of destroyed houses and infrastructure, injuries and death. On the waste of life on all sides. It should make us stop and consider what lessons we have learned (and failed to learn) from our history.

War can be necessary. War can be justified. But it is does not occur in isolation from the rest of society. As the philosopher John Donne said "...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind." This is why the events and sacrifices of the First World War remain relevant today.


If you have not heard or read the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy's poem on this subject, I urge you to read it here. The poem is entitled "Last Post" and the audio version is spine-tingling.

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