Lest we ever forget
Well it’s been a funny old week. I have cried more in four days than I have in four months.
On Saturday, she of Annie Reviews and I set off on our remembrance adventure to Belgium to visit the grave of our great uncle, David Williams, who was killed on the battlefields of Flanders exactly 100 years ago this month – another seven months and he would have marched back to his parents and the girl who waved him off from the front of their cottage on West Wales. He had warned them he would not survive. At the end of the road he turned to raise his hand in farewell. They never saw him again. He was nineteen years old.
I knew planting a flower on his grave and listening to Annie recite a poem written to him by our grandfather would be tough. But I had not anticipated the terrible sadness of walking past grave after grave, many – like the two poor lads either side of David – which do not even have a name; every one testimony to a terrible end in the mud, screaming, pleading, praying and terror of the Flanders trenches.
Everywhere you go in Belgium there is a quiet respect for the sacrifice. Graves are tended, quiet contemplation is the norm when you step through the gates of yet another graveyard and look at row after row of headstones. Each night at the Menin Gate, Ypres, hundreds of people gather to witness the ceremony of remembrance. Many, like the ex-soldier at my side, weep. Nearly every memorial has words of hope assuring that the dead will not be forgotten, that they died for our tomorrow, that they died heroes for a better world. I had to wonder whether that was a terrible lie.
- Within 25 years, the third Reich was marching across Europe again and slaughtering Jews, gypsies and the disabled in gas chambers. There started another world war.
- Within 40 years young Americans and Vietnamese were slaughtered in the Vietnam war
- Within 50 years Russia was warring with her neighbours
- Within 70 years we were starting the Gulf Wars
- Within 80 years Christians were murdering thousands of young Muslim men in the 3rd Balkan War
- Within 90 years the so called War on Terror created its own
- And now, 100 years on we sit in front of the TV and see little children gassed in the streets of Syria
And these are only a few of the major conflicts involving many countries. If you simply Google ‘Wars since 1918’ the list is horrifying. And for what?
At Uncle David’s grave I looked around and heard birds singing in blossoming trees. I reflected on how very lucky I am to live in a land of relative peace. There is beauty everywhere which manages to survive and thrive after destruction. But could I say that my Uncle died so that I would never see the same again?
No. My gentle uncle died for other men’s greed for power and control. And on it goes. I am just very lucky to be far awa