Three of my relatives fought and died on the western front in the First World War. It is commonly used as a touchstone for all that is worst in war.
This may be partly because this terrible, attritional conflict was one of the first to be recorded on film (both moving pictures and photography) in such comprehensive detail; it may have been the shifting attitudes occurring in society at the time; it may have been the powerful poetry written by soldiers; or it may have been the horrendous cocktail of mud, blood and fear that ordinary men had to endure for weeks on end – and the fact so many of them never made it home, or were even retrieved from the filthy quagmire of shells, soil and body parts. It was probably all of the above, and more.
November will see the centenary of the end of the war. The armistice of 11 November 1918 was the official end of the war, even though some pockets of fighting continued for a while afterwards – particularly in Russia.
It must have been a moment of terrific release – and relief – for everyone at home, never mind those in our armed forces. EalingNewsExtra has been running a series on its history section, looking at how the events impacted on our own borough. It also reported on the commemoration of one of Acton’s fallen heroes. A flagstone was unveiled to him recently, in honour of his supreme bravery (for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross).
I was there and felt incredibly moved by the ceremony and thoughts of what he must have experienced, and what so many young men from our towns – often teenagers or in their early 20s – must have endured. So many did not see home again, and most of those who did were shocked into silence. It makes me recall these lines from Wilfred Owen’s poem The Send-Off:
Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.
These words will doubtless reverberate inside my head when I observe the two minutes’ silence at a service on Remembrance Sunday, this 11 November.
I will finish by saying how pleased I was to be able to help a local organisation supporting armed forces veterans recently. You can read about Motorsport Endeavour here.