Quite a few youngsters were excited last Friday at the prospect of their digital clocks, at one instant of time, exhibiting 11:11:11, 11/11/11. Just a little earlier than that, many people were anticipating another event.
A teenage cadet expressed it well: that Remembrance Day 2011 was particularly poignant because, for the first time, there were no surviving participants from World War 1. For those who survived, for those who lost their lives, for their families and friends this was The Great War, the "War to End All Wars". But that wasn't the case - scarcely 21 years later the Madness started all over again. Such things, and how they came about, need to be remembered.
Personal stories abound. It's sobering to think of my grandfather, who served in the trenches of WW1. He was hit by a shell blast and knocked unconscious. He came around in a mass grave, about to be filled in. With a broken jaw he could not call out, only blink his eyes. Had an alert soldier not spotted this faint signal, in among so many dead bodies, he would not have been rescued. Nor would my father have been born in 1922, nor would I nor, consequently, any of my children. Not all had this kind of lucky escape.
But these wars were not caused by Peoples, one population against another. The greed, selfishness and ineptitude of our collective Leaders leads to ordinary people being swept up with these greater events.
Just three weeks ago I attended the funeral of a long-time friend, a 90-year-old one-time member of the Waffen SS. A teenage Ukrainian Partisan, he was captured by the Germans. Accepting SS uniform was the only way of avoiding instant execution, but he deserted for Allied lines as soon as he could. He and my father-in-law, who had been taken as forced labour by the Nazis, were good personal friends in recent years.
Then there is my late friend Josef, a member of the German Wehrmacht, who ended the war as a prisoner in France and later married a French/Polish Jewess who had survived a Concentration Camp. They were married for nearly 60 years.
I was in the Netherlands on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Whereas the UK TV channels I saw that day were full of rather triumphalistic sentiments, Dutch TV was rather more thoughtful. It looked at the stories of apprehensive Allied soldiers, running off landing craft into an uncertain fate AND the stories of equally frightened German defenders, many of whom died in similarly awful numbers. Quite a balanced view from a country which suffered direct Nazi occupation.
Talk to any such persons and they will tell you what a BLOODY SILLY WAY (in every definition thereof) war is of settling disputes, and would seek any sensible alternative. It is frightening to see some of our "Western Democratic Leaders" who have had no direct personal experience of such conflicts reaching for the war option, despite the urgings of their populations, as if being a Wartime Leader is some kind of badge of honour. Or successions of Ministers assisting in the overseas sale of "Defence Equipment", or Arms Dealing as it really is! Such weapons will either be used against us, our Service personnel or our contemporary allies at a future date, or used against those States' civilian populations. And they know it!
None of this is in any way to decry the real sacrifices made by Services personnel 90+, 60+ or just a few years ago, or even right now. They deserve better than they are getting. It is this which needs remembering. While the Old Soldiers of WW1 are no longer with us, the Age of Lions led by Donkeys lives on.