LEST WE FOR­GET

Alan Cochrane hopes we con­tinue re­mem­ber the war he­roes that fell dur­ing the world wars

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Ican’t say I’ll be too sorry to see the back of 2018. As far as I was con­cerned, with the ex­cep­tion of Scot­land beating Eng­land at rugby and cricket, it was a noth­ing sort of year. But there is one rea­son that I hope some of the events and mem­o­ries of the year now pass­ing will not be for­got­ten.

I’m re­fer­ring to the cer­e­monies – no, make that memo­ri­als – that marked the cen­te­nary of the end of the First World War. In­deed, the whole of the last four years from 2014 on­wards have been re­mark­able for the way in which al­most the en­tire world, and cer­tainly all of Europe, have com­mem­o­rated the events and sac­ri­fices of that ap­palling con­flict.

And as some­one who has made reg­u­lar trips over past decades to all those bat­tle­fields what has struck me most forcibly has been not that the mem­ory of that car­nage is fad­ing but quite the re­verse. Un­told crowds of peo­ple con­tinue to pay homage to those who gave their lives by the mil­lion from 1914-1918, and what is per­haps most re­mark­able about all of those who stand in silent trib­ute at the mon­u­ments, ceno­taphs and ceme­ter­ies which are dot­ted all over those Flan­ders fields, is their age.

There is ob­vi­ously no­body alive to­day who fought in those bat­tles – but it is their grand­chil­dren and, more likely, their great-grand­chil­dren who are there ev­ery week of the year in truly amaz­ing num­bers to ac­knowl­edge the price their fore­bears paid all those years ago.

That chil­dren of school age can see for them­selves what men not much older than them­selves lived and died through, in the most ap­palling of con­di­tions, 100 years ago is to my mind the best way to teach his­tory. The French, Bri­tish, Bel­gian, Aus­tralian, Cana­dian and New Zealand gov­ern­ments, aided and abet­ted by the mag­nif­i­cent Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion, have gone to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to tell us what really hap­pened. And in say­ing this, I shouldn’t for­get to say that the huge Ger­man ceme­ter­ies - with their rows of black iron crosses - should also be on ev­ery bat­tle­field tour itin­er­ary, spelling out how griev­ous were the losses suf­fered by that coun­try too.

To wit­ness the sun­set cer­e­mony at the Menin Gate, in Ypres – ‘Wipers’ to my grand­fa­ther – is an in­tensely mov­ing oc­ca­sion, still wit­nessed by hun­dreds, even thou­sands, ev­ery night. And whilst the 60,000 names of the dead and miss­ing in­scribed on its walls are mostly of Bri­tish and Com­mon­wealth sol­diers, it is Bel­gian fire­men who sound the Last Post on their bu­gles and who, I am sure, will con­tinue to do so for many years to come.

Or will they? It is this last is­sue that gives me some cause for con­cern. Will the end of 2018 sig­nify that we’re fin­ished with the First World War? Af­ter all we’ve had elab­o­rate and stir­ring cer­e­monies to mark the var­i­ous cen­te­nar­ies. We be­gan by mark­ing the start of the war when the ‘lamps were go­ing out all over Europe’, ac­cord­ing to Sir Ed­ward Grey.

And then, one af­ter the other, the 100-year an­niver­saries of the great bat­tles oc­curred – the mir­a­cle of Mons in 1914; the butch­ery of the Jocks at Loos in 1915, which is still re­mem­bered ev­ery year with a cer­e­mony on the Dundee Law; the First Day of the Somme on

1 July 1916, when 20,000 per­ished; the at­tack by 40-odd Scot­tish bat­tal­ions at Ar­ras in 1917; and not ever for­get­ting the var­i­ous Bat­tles of Ypres, the last of which was also named Pass­chen­daele, a name that still strikes awe and re­vul­sion in the hearts of many and in equal mea­sure be­cause of its hor­rific squalor.

I’m about to be­gin a pil­grim­age to Amiens where the last Ger­man of­fen­sive was halted in 1918 and from where the bat­tle which pre­saged the end of hos­til­i­ties be­gan. As I write, the cer­e­mony to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month will be well ad­vanced for this year’s ser­vice and pa­rade at the Ceno­taph in White­hall. But mark­ing as it does the cen­te­nary of the day the guns at last fell silent it will take on a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance – Novem­ber 11 falls on a Sun­day this year.

Some 10,000 peo­ple – de­scen­dants, fam­ily mem­bers, the gen­eral pub­lic, as well as ser­vice­men – will take part in the march­past, while bells will be rung all round Europe as a thank you to those who died (in the apogee of naffness, the govern­ment is al­ready call­ing it the ‘Peo­ple’s Pro­ces­sion’).

I do hope, how­ever, that this will be not be the last of our memo­ri­als to the fallen of all those years ago. Those who, in Wil­fred Owen’s words, ‘died like cat­tle’ de­serve to be for­ever in our minds if only in the hope that it doesn’t hap­pen again.

“Those who ‘died like cat­tle’ de­serve to be for­ever in our minds

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