diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Will we remember them?

It's 85 years ago today since the guns fell silent across Europe at the end of the Great War. No need to call it World War One back then, because the generals signing the Armistice in a railway carriage at 5am that November morning hoped they'd done enough to prevent a second. Not quite. More than ten million people lost their lives in the poppyfields of northern France and Belgium (about four deaths every minute, on average). And it's the end of this not-so-great war whose anniversary we still commemorate today in remembrance of all those who've given their lives in conflict over the last century.

When I was a child, the two minute silence always felt more important than it does today. Maybe that's because there were more old soldiers around in those days. Only three veterans of the First World War made it to the Cenotaph on Sunday, out of a mere 27 such soldiers still alive today. At least, that was Sunday's figure - it may well be lower by now. Two years ago there were 160, but age has wearied them and the years condemned. As these centenarians slowly slip away, so the Great War will fade into history, just a virtual memory etched onto the written page (and preserved in that final episode of Blackadder). Soon there'll be nobody left who was part of that first civilian army, no witnesses to the atrocities of trench warfare, nobody who was actually there. Nobody cheats death forever.

Whole generations have now grown up, in Western countries at least, without any first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be at war. Long may that continue. But I wonder what children will be thinking about during the two minute silence in twenty years time. How their great-great-great-grandfather suffered during World War One? That project on ancient warfare they did at school last term. How they're going to reach the next level on DeathBlast 7 when they get home? Why the Queen's wearing that funny black hat again? Or just wondering when the nuclear winter will ever end? Let's hope we still take time out to remember why we're all still here, on behalf of those who won't be.

In Flanders Fields Museum
12 soldier poets of the First World War
The National Archives
For The Fallen

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