Monday, 16 June 2014

Remembering the fallen

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian was as follows:

Friday 6th June 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when over 150,000 allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe.

It is very important that the bravery and sacrifice of the young men who took part in the largest amphibious assault in history is remembered seven decades on.

It was certainly fitting to see so many veterans of the landing – now all in their eighties and nineties – being honoured at Sword Beach, last week, where they and their families were joined by world leaders, numerous dignatories and thousands of others.  

The French President Francois Hollande told the assembled crowd how the events of D-Day had “changed the world” and US President Barack Obama spoke about how the beaches of Normandy had become a beachhead for democracy. He added the heroism of the troops of 1944 would “endure for eternity."

The Queen meanwhile paid tribute to the "immense and heroic endeavour" of the combatants and laid a wreath in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Bayeux, which contains over 4,000 allied burials from the Second World War.

It is my view that it is also essential that all politicians and opinion formers, present and future, remember the terrible losses of all previous wars, learn from it, and do all in their power to prevent further conflicts around the globe.

Readers of the Cornish Guardian may recall that I am presently researching a book about the servicemen from my local parish who lost their lives in the First World War.

Last week, my wife and I were in France and Belgium undertaking research and visiting some of the hundreds of military cemeteries scattered throughout the area.

We also visited a number of memorials to servicemen who have no known grave. These included the Thiepval Monument which records the names of over 72,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Somme sector; and the Menin Gate in Ypres and the nearby Tyne Cot Memorial which, respectively, detail the names of around 54,000 and 35,000 men from the allied forces who died on the Ypres Salient.

The cemeteries and memorials have great poignancy, but it is especially hard to put into words the sheer magnitude of the heartbreak of the losses experienced by loved ones, families and communities and which the monuments represent.

Over the last few days, I have seen many displays and exhibitions. One quote stood out for me. It came from King George V in 1922, on a visit to Tyne Cot where there is also a cemetery with over 10,000 graves. He said: “I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”

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