The valiant hearts who bled for our free­dom

Scottish Daily Mail - - News -

ONE hun­dred years ago to­mor­row morn­ing, at 11 o’clock pre­cisely, an un­earthly still­ness fell over the West­ern Front as the mon­strous anger of the guns fell silent af­ter what was up to then the most dev­as­tat­ing war in his­tory.

This Sun­day, as Big Ben rings out the 11th hour over the Ceno­taph in White­hall, mil­lions all over the coun­try will mark that mo­ment with a two-minute si­lence of their own.

In city churches, town squares and gath­ered around vil­lage war memo­ri­als, young and old alike will push the petty tribu­la­tions of the mod­ern world to the back of their minds, as they re­flect on the awe­some courage and sac­ri­fice of the fallen and the grief of those they left be­hind.

Dur­ing that solemn si­lence, cares real or imag­ined, will be briefly for­got­ten – health and money wor­ries, fam­ily tiffs, spats on so­cial me­dia, ri­val­ries at work or rows about Brexit.

As ev­ery year on Novem­ber 11 – though never more so than in this cen­te­nary year – all such con­cerns will be thrown into mock­ing per­spec­tive by mem­o­ries handed down to us of the hell of the trenches and the for­ti­tude of those who en­dured it.

True, such is the folly of mankind that the ‘war to end all wars’ proved no such thing. In­deed, just a gen­er­a­tion later, the world was con­vulsed by a dead­lier con­flict still, while na­tions have fought wars ever since, right up to the present day in coun­tries such as Syria and Ukraine. But none has brought home to the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion the hor­ror of war more vividly than the in­dus­tri­alised slaugh­ter of 1914-18, when hardly a fam­ily was left un­touched by grief.

Most mov­ing of all, the sheer char­ac­ter of those who fought shines out from their cheer­ful let­ters home. With very few ex­cep­tions, they shielded loved ones from knowl­edge of the daily tor­ment they suf­fered from lice, rats, sludge, rot­ting corpses, the unimag­in­able ter­ror of poi­son gas, shell­fire and the whis­tle that sig­nalled the or­der to face the ma­chine guns over the top.

This was a gen­er­a­tion stiff­ened with sto­icism and driven by an un­ques­tion­ing love of fam­ily, home and coun­try – in the words of the great hymn, I Vow To Thee, My Coun­try: ‘The love that never fal­ters, the love that pays the price/ The love that makes un­daunted the fi­nal sac­ri­fice.’

To many of us, the young in par­tic­u­lar, the Great War may seem like an­cient his­tory. But as the Queen’s pres­ence at the Ceno­taph to­mor­row re­minds us, there are many like her alive to­day whose fa­thers and un­cles fought in it.

Even chil­dren now at school needn’t look far back in their fam­ily trees to find rel­a­tives who an­swered the call to arms for king, coun­try and em­pire.

In­deed, this pa­per draws en­cour­age­ment from the mul­ti­tudes of young who have joined com­mem­o­ra­tions since the cen­te­nary of the war’s out­break.

A cen­tury on, the na­tion’s col­lec­tive mem­ory shows no sign of fal­ter­ing, kept alive as it is by the power of war po­ets such as Wil­fred Owen and the sear­ingly mov­ing silent news­reels of the time.

Of course, to­mor­row we will also be re­mem­ber­ing those who gave their lives for us in more re­cent con­flicts. But on this, of all Armistice Days, it is in­evitable that our chief thoughts will be with those who died like cat­tle in 1914-18.

As we stand in silent re­mem­brance, we should re­flect on how lucky we are to be alive in his­tory’s long­est pe­riod of peace be­tween Eu­rope’s ma­jor pow­ers – and how dan­ger­ous it would be to take that peace for granted.

Lest we for­get, it was bought at a ter­ri­ble price. We owe it to those valiant hearts who paid for it in their blood to trea­sure and guard it, and hal­low their mem­ory in the land they loved.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.