WEEKENDER: We must honour our veterans’ memories
12:55pm Saturday 7th June 2014 in News
Normandy Veteran Fred Glover, 88, 9th Parachute Battalion, watches a parachute drop in Ranville, France, during a commemorative ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursda
AS a general rule, I have never had much time for pomp and circumstance, or for the trappings of ceremony.
But watching and reading about the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, I am struck by how important, on this occasion at least, such ceremony is.
Not as far as the world-leaders-all-standing-in-a-row stuff goes. There is doubtless an obscure law of science that determines that once a certain number of such dignitaries gather in one place, they are compelled to line up and look sombre, angry or happy, as the occasion demands.
No, the focus of this week’s coverage has quite rightly, largely been about those servicemen who took part – the tens of thousands who gave their lives, and the dwindling number of those who survived to fight another day, or days.
And they are dwindling.
It is one of those clichés, one of those syrupy phrases that have gathered around the act of remembrance over decades, that age will not wither those who died serving in world wars and other conflicts.
But time still passes, and for those who survived, age does wither. Those who have gathered on the beaches of Normandy, those who have marched or been wheeled through the streets of the region’s towns and villages during the past couple of days – justly proud and determined though they are – are withering indeed.
That is what time does, and it does not do to deny it. But we must not deny either that continued recognition of their deeds is vital, as the years pass and those who have first hand experience of that fight become fewer.
It is not so many years ago the First World War became one of purely historical testimony, with the deaths of the final surviving servicemen who experienced the horrors of the trenches.
A decade from now, the youngest surviving veterans of Normandy and of the latter stages of the Second World War will be approaching 100 years old. A good number of veterans will be older than that.
And when it comes to the 100th anniversary of this momentous event, it will be populated entirely by statesmen and stateswomen – for there will be no-one left who was there, to tell the tale.
When I was growing up and old enough to retain a memory of such commemorations – getting old enough too, in the second half of the 1970s to begin to understand the scale of the conflict and the sacrifices involved – what happened on D-Day already seemed an impossibly long time ago.
But then, it was only 30-odd years in the past. Now, 70 years on, I wonder what 10, 11, 12-year-olds think about the Second World War and an event such as D-Day. Does it seem impossibly remote? Do we as a society do enough to engender a sense of the importance of what went on, and of the role of our servicemen?
I wonder. But I also marvel anew at the first hand experiences that have been recounted this week, by those survivors who have been willing to talk about them.
We are used to taking in history’s often necessarily broad-brush approach to the subject of war, its place in the sweep of time, and its consequences.
But every one of the dwindling band of veterans marking the D-Day anniversary this week have personal stories to tell, harrowing, saddening, uplifting, incredible. Together, these are the experiences that form the larger patchwork of the events of June 6, 1944, and the hard months thereafter, on the road to winning the war.
And it is these that perhaps provide the key to engaging future generations, and instilling an idea of what war means generally, and what this war in particular, meant from a human perspective.
The closure of the Normandy Veterans’ Association this year, after more than 30 years of providing succour and support for those thousands of servicemen who were part of the D-Day landings and the subsequent liberation of Europe, is a sobering indication of the passing of time.
There are nowadays simply too few of them, and many are too infirm, to continue, though there have been indications that more informal groups will continue.
Age may indeed wither them, and time will ultimately defeat them, as it defeats us all.
But that is where we and the aforementioned future generations come in. For it is and will be our job to ensure time does not defeat their memory.
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