Remembrance or Armistice Day, a time of mourning and reflection across the UK and Commonwealth nations is upon us next week. Historically 11th November marked the official end of the First World War and the day is observed with parades, and silence, across the world in honour of the final sacrifice given by millions of men and women in the service of their countries, not just in that ghastly war, but in all conflicts over the last 100 years; the Second World War, Korea, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. Up and down the nation on Sunday we will see and hear those parades, organised by our custodian of remembrance, the Royal British Legion (https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/remembrance). I shall be in attendance at my local church and afterwards beside the village memorial, its weather-beaten Purbeck stone containing the names of those brothers, sons, fathers, husbands, most now long gone, but whose names are deeply inscribed within the stone, and into the hearts and minds of this nation.
At a weekend away in Cornwall last week I joined up with a dozen of my former colleagues from 29 Commando. We were altogether greyer, some balder, but wiser, and as the beer flowed, so did the banter. It’s funny how soldiers only ever really talk about the good times; the jolly around the Med, the girls, the crazy antics… though, we did as so often, talk of those who were gone, and one, in particular, who for privacy’s sake, will here remain nameless; the lads know who I mean. A tough nut, true Commando, we each agreed. I saw him just before that deployment, holding the bar and an audience, larger than life, a bear hug greeting for an old friend. Given he had only a few months left before retirement I enquired as to whether he really needed to go and yet, he was adamant remarking “I’m a soldier, it’s my job and the lads need me”.
An enemy RPG took his life a short time after what was to be our last encounter. The funeral service in his home city of Liverpool, humbling and terribly sad. So why did he go? He could have just marked time, enjoyed his well deserved pension and joined us last weekend. We miss him.
Few enter military service with a motive to do battle with an enemy. Rather, they do so to serve, to protect, to find a family, a brotherhood. Nothing in civvie street can compare with the experience of military service. “Mates for life?” Oh yes. We would die for each other and sadly, many have.
We will, remember them.
Grant is a partner in our military team in London and a former commando.