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  • Writer's pictureRichard Irvine


By Chris Stride

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. That number conjures such powerful emotions in so many of us.

Reeling after the slaughter of the Great War, that war “to end all wars”, surviving society set in place memorials and rituals to honour and remember the dead, marking their sacrifice and hoping that in so doing horrors on such a scale would not be repeated; the building of the Cenotaph and more modest memorials throughout England, entombing the Unknown Soldier to represent all the dead, the wearing of poppies, services of remembrance on the appointed day and two minutes silence on the appointed hour.

We only have to take note of today’s news on the War in Ukraine, 104 years after that Armistice, to observe how naive was the hope of a ‘war to end all wars’, passionate and heartfelt though it was at the time. I recall a photo-piece in Life magazine years ago of a doorstep in London depicting the departure of a soldier to war; 1899 and a young wife bidding farewell to her husband off to fight the Boers, 1914 and the same woman, now middle-aged, saying goodbye to her son and finally in 1939, a grandmother now, saying farewell to her grandson.

My own grandmother lost her fiancé, a young medic, in 1917 and her sister lost her son in 1940. My father had a long war from joining up 6th September 1939 until the surrender of Japan 15th August 1945. But he survived.

My mother’s fear when having a son was that one day I too would go off to war. But I was lucky, as a British Boomer I was never called upon to fight, unlike my American contemporaries. In all the many conflicts in which this country has been involved since 1945, we have been served by a small body of professionals and I have never been called upon to be a citizen soldier.

Now, forty years on, we are remembering the Falklands Conflict. The night of 21st May 1982 I was with my father watching television as news of the landing at Goose Green came through, snippet by snippet hour by hour throughout the evening and night. I was in a state of extreme emotion; angry at the diplomats and politicians for their failure in preventing the war in the first place and requiring young soldiers to put their lives on the line to retrieve their error, fearful of the outcome. I knew one such soldier, a twenty-one year old in the Parachute Regiment, who seemed too innocent to be tasked with such a burden.

My father sensed my mood and sat with me through the night. As the news came through drip by drip on the screen he talked, incident by incident, of his own experience at Dunkirk, something he had never done before. I began to understand the feeling of being alone despite being in the midst of an army, the chaos, the uncertainty, the fear of not being up to the mark when the moment came, the little acts of kindness, the randomness of luck. Intimate and personal, unlike the heroics of most of the war movies I had seen growing up. Recently, when watching Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”, memories were rekindled of that night with my father all those years ago.

Most of us 3rd-Agers have never been called upon to make this sort of sacrifice. We have benefited from the bright new world envisaged by the Attlee government of 1945 and grown up in a period of peace and relative affluence, at least in the West. In our own way, though, we have fought our own battles over the years to change society for the better; racial equality, gender equality, workplace equality, freedom of expression.

The Just Stop Oil protests of today are nothing new. Think back to the protest year of 1968. Or for that matter, Emily Davison’s extreme gesture on Derby Day 1913. Maybe saving the planet is a bigger cause than any for which we fought or for which previous generations fought. But listening to Just Stop Oil’s Indigo Rumbelow shouting at Mark Austin during her interview on Sky News, it was as if only she and her fellow protestors fully appreciated the threat posed by oil and that nobody else had ever paid attention or cared about the future of the world. Really?

Today, during that moment of silence, I thought of the many who cared very much about the world and its future and had made a far greater sacrifice than I have ever been called upon to do. Ms Rumbelow, please take pause for breath and consider for a moment what others have done before you.

Written by Chris Stride

Contributing columnist at A3A Agency for the Third Age

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