Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

90 Years On

This is the 90th anniversary of Britain's entry into the First World War. It's amazing, but there are still living veterans. Four of them were at the Cenotaph this morning. We heard their voices on the radio. One said he'd forgotten most of it, but people kept asking questions which brought things back. Another just simply said he'd forgotten. They were all over 100 of course.

Soon there will be no-one who remembers anything.

I was at the death-bed of a veteran who died in the 1970s. I'm afraid I can't remember his name. Like most old soldiers he didn't really want to talk about all that. One thing he did tell me was this. He'd been a dispatch rider and he had a memory of lying flat along the horse's back, riding hell for leather, while the machine gun bullets cut through the air above him. Zip. Zip. Zip.

In the late 1960s The BBC ran a documentary series called The Great War. That's how I got my education. It was the first time that much of the now all-too-familiar footage had been widely shown; the boys going over the top and one of them falling (probably faked) the big explosions, the swollen bodies in captured trenches. It affected me deeply. It made me angry and proud. And it inoculated me forever against militarism.

It is one of the things I have always been profoundly grateful for, that I never had to wear a uniform.
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