Little thought is generally given to the Great War in our everyday lives; it seems strange that in our constant state of busyness we should stop and think about something where all who fought in it are now dead. Whilst Claude Choules only died in May of this year (he served in the Royal Navy) it has actually been three years since Harry Patch - the last survivor of those infamous trenches, died. So, now there are no living memories for the appalling conditions undergone by those who fought. It is perhaps even stranger, once it is considered that there were more than 70 million military personnel mobilized over of it's four year duration and instances such as the opening day of the Battle of the Somme proved to be the bloodiest in the history of the British armed forces even to this day (57, 470 casualties).
Yet, every year on the Sunday closest to Armistice day, as a nation we gather to commemorate their sacrifice, as well as the sacrifices since, including those who continue to sacrifice themselves for the sake of our freedoms. King George V started this tradition as a response to the national trauma in 1919 as his country struggled to come to terms with its loss, as a way of unifying through grief as a generation of men was prematurely lost.
Despite the annual readings of the work of World War One poets such as McCrae and Brooke I have frequently found myself thinking of more recent wars: ones which have occurred within my lifetime and of which I have a more intimate connection with. Obviously, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with this, their work is incredible and their bravery is something I can not do true justice for by using mere words. However, should it be so easy to overlook the deaths of six million?
Unimaginable numbers of lives were tragically cut short through a war which even today the majority of people struggle to understand. I myself admit that I severely doubt that the ideological and political reasons for World War One justified any sort of war, let alone one on such a mass scale. I suppose what I'm trying to get at is the importance of not letting their numbers become a mere statistic. Something so horrendous can not become merely another date alongside long ago campaigns such as the Crimean War and the Battle of Waterloo. It is something that we can not allow to be just forgotten names on war memorials; it should forever remain a part of our national consciousness.
*The title quote was taken from the autobiography of Harry Patch - The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, the Only Surviving Veteran of the Trenches