Thursday, 6 August 2009
Today is a sad day for me in some ways, a day of reflection and thought. Through the drizzle and rain and dark sky I want to remember two extraordinary characters who have passed from this life into the next to join millions of others who they have represented in the last years of their lives with dignity, honour and quiet reflection.
I want to think about and pay tribute to the late Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, 113 and 111 years of age respectively at the time of their death, the last of the soldiers of World War One, fighting for freedom, defending their country against tyranny and who fought among those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us - for me and you.
Harry Patch, in his later years talked about peace and reconciliation and the horrors of what he saw, faced and lived through in the dirty, wet, blood soaked, body ridden trenches of foreign fields.
He said that any soldier who walked in line to the front who wasn't scared was a liar, and I believe him. The terror of going over the wall with nothing but faith as a shield, knowing that any second, your last breath has just been expended is just too much to bear to think about. Yet they did it time and time again and amazingly many survived.
My great grand uncle Herbert Stanley Joseph Jones died in the trenches in Belgium on Monday 19th November, 1917 as a 28 year old Lance Corporal in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. Although I haven't visited his grave, it does exist and one day I will pay my respects to him as I do in my thoughts occasionally, and I will tonight in my prayers.
The 'Ode to Remembrance', or part of it by Laurence Binyon from his poem 'For the Fallen' is for remembrance of all those who fell.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Harry Patch was right of course about the need for peace and reconciliation. Reconciliation means to be no longer opposed, to become friendly with or re-establish relationships with someone. Is war ever justified? This isn't the place or time for the debate, just thoughts about sacrifice tonight is enough to become sober and rational about war and its consequences. But war is about people, combatants and civilians, heroes and victims, innocent and guilty isn't it? And that is my priority tonight - people.
I have mentioned Rupert Brookes before in my blog, but perhaps it's worth thinking about his words carefully and their meaning from his poem, 'The Soldier:'
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.