Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

For as long as I can remember I have struggled to make sense of Remembrance Day. Remembering the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the armistice was signed, effectively ending the war between Britain and Germany. Later it became a day when we remembered young men who had lost their lives in other wars.

I think the thing I stuck with was the feeling that we were celebrating that tens of thousands of young men had 'given' their lives for 'The cause'. I always felt that their lives had been taken away rather than given and talk of them making the ultimate sacrifice should have been that they were sacrificed. Remembrance Sunday was a solemn occasion but also a show of jingoistic pride in what to me was a cruel waste of young lives fighting against foes who within a few short years became our friends.

Rather than celebrating we should be mourning for young lives cut short, remember the heroes by all means but also remember those, although uninjured, slipped and drowned into seas of mud at Passchendaele those with shell or bullet wounds who died alone in a shell hole in no mans land; those who lost limbs or were blinded; those, too terrified to advance into a hail of bullets, who were shot by their own officers or put in front of a firing squad.

Going back to WW2, my parents and presumably all the British people were informed and directed through the BBC and newspapers. This was the voice of authority, the ultimate 'brain washer'. It really was the 'Gospel according to the Mail'. To be fair they published the information fed to them by the Government. During the Battle of Britain it was claimed that 175 German aircraft had been shot down in one day - a few years later the figure was amended to 56 but at the time 175 was believed totally.

Later, night radar was fitted to British fighters but in order to keep the secret we were told, and believed, that a star night fighter, Cats Eyes Cunningham, trained his eyes by staring at a brick wall and eating carrots. For weeks I ate carrots and stared at the wall to improve my eyesight! My mum believed implicitly in 'The Mail'. If she had read in The Daily Mail that she could cure her chilblains with chicken manure, she would have tried it.

Our leaders persuaded us to hate the enemy and to lay our lives on the line in order to beat them. Japanese Pilots who flew virtual flying bombs and deliberately crashed into allied warships were fanatics. In Britain, of those airmen who were flying with RAF Bomber Command at the beginning of the war, only ten percent survived. It is a loss rate comparable only to the worst slaughter of the First World War trenches. I shall no doubt be accused of not being patriotic but was there a democratic choice or were we all 'persuaded' that right was on our side and it was our duty to die in the attempt to defeat the enemy?

Another little digression. A late friend of mine was a conscientious objector in WW2. Hauled before a tribunal, he was asked to justify his position. His response would not have gone down well in 1949. "I cannot see why I should drop bombs of Franz Schmidt in Hamburg with whom I might have an interesting conversation about Bach rather than Fred Smith in Stockport with whom I have nothing in common whatsoever’

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