The First World War created the modern world, transforming the lives of every person who shall ever live, so when discussing it, we often get tied down with the history of the war, it’s consequences and the impact that it had on the 20th-century.
But on Remembrance Day, none of that matters. What matters is that a million men from across the Commonwealth, most of whom didn’t have the vote, and many younger than students at Newcastle, were shipped away to die in Flanders Fields. It was a horror previously unknown to the world, but one that is now far too familiar to us all. Taking a moment to remember those that fell in the First World War, and every war that is, has been, or shall ever come to pass, doesn’t celebrate or glorify combat, as some have said over the past decade. I think the opposite is true, I think it serves as a reminder of the consequences of war, and the values of pacifism.
I was lucky enough to go on a school trip to France and Belgium, to visit the graves and battlefields. I was fourteen, and like most fourteen year olds, a little arrogant and self-involved. But that trip penetrated through the teenage angst, and changed me a bit. Little graveyards, filled with even, white gravestones, are scattered across the landscape, each marked with a Cross of Sacrifice. Some, like Tyne Cot, stretch on in ordered rows, almost like the marching regiments they commemorate. A shocking number of the dead are unidentified, but they still have tombstones. Their sacrifice is still important. I stood beneath the Menin Gate at sunset, while the Last Post played, and a single shaft of sunlight broke through the cloud and fell upon the crowd.
It was a time of peace and reflection, an opportunity to think about the fallen, their fears, their lives, their loved ones. But also an opportunity to think about my own, and what I wanted to do with the time that has been given to me, and was taken from the young men who fell in battle. That’s what Remembrance Day is all about, an opportunity not just to give thanks, but also to reflect upon what you’re giving thanks for.
Feature Image Credit: Pixabay, @KimMcKenzie