I am sure I am not the only one for whom the presence of the poppies this summer and the poignant commemoration of the Somme and the Lincoln Tank have prompted a great deal of quiet reflection.
I know that I am not alone in digging more deeply to find my own family’s involvement in the two wars. I guess, though, I am perhaps unusual in having a father who served in both.
The castle ceremony to commemorate the first day of the battle of the Somme prompted me to dig out my father’s service record. I found that he had been there in a division held in reserve on that first horrific day. They had then gone into action but amazingly he survived notwithstanding the high risk of shelling of the ammunition dumps and arms stores that he then commanded. He was an Ordnance officer.
I have now read further around the subject of how the fighting troops were supplied and will research some more. What is already clear though is that what my father learnt in the First war most certainly informed the way he approached the Second. I have already written about that, about the way the army was mechanised in my book, War on Wheels.
My question though is why do I feel compelled to research and write. (It isn’t for money!)
When I drive around the country to sites in the UK, to the depots where it all happened, I find only hints from what remains. The majority is lost in the mists of time. The shell filling factory at Chilwell near Nottingham, which we can all learn more about at the Drill Hall on 3 November from the show, Swan Canaries, became the heart of the army’s mechanisation. It is now a housing estate and supermarket, apart from a comparatively small remaining Barracks area. The depot at Old Dalby in the Vale of Belvoir is an industrial estate. The same is true of very many others. As I say, all lost in the mists of time.
Does this matter? In the grand scheme of things, the current use is without doubt a far better use than as a sinew of war. Yet the job those people did, however unglamorous, was vital and without it we simply wouldn’t be here. We are right to remember and honour them.
Remembering though has an even more important element. To make sure it never happens again. And it hasn’t, at least not on the mammoth scale and I would say thanks in no small part to the union of European nations. It has though happened on the smaller albeit horrific scale of the wars in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The shells filled by those brave girls in Chilwell, the tanks and fighting vehicles supplied through Chilwell twenty years later inflicted appalling harm. That harm is being repeated, its victims this time being more and more children and innocent people just trying to live their lives.
I recall some words of Shakespeare from the character of a Bishop played by a very young me in Henry V: ‘Awake remembrance of these valiant dead, and with your puissant arm renew their feats.’
Wholeheartedly awake remembrance, but, world leaders, be brave enough not to rush to renew their feats. The way of war is hideous. Weapons of war are so powerful and indiscriminate that their use must only ever be the last resort.
This piece was published by the Lincolnshire Echo on 8 September 2016