When I was born, the Korean War was still being fought. The Second World War had only ended seven years earlier, and many more wars were still to come during my lifetime. Today in the UK, and all across Europe, we have been commemorating the anniversary of the second day of World War One, one hundred years ago today. Britain remembers today, as we declared war on Germany on this date. However, the day before, Belgium had been invaded, and Liege attacked.
There have been ceremonies in France, Belgium, the UK, and many other countries. In Britain tonight, many of us turned off our lights at 10pm, using only one candle for illumination, for one hour of remembrance. TV documentaries and live broadcasts have covered everything, from church services in London, to interviews with long-dead veterans; tears in their eyes as they remembered the hardships and loss decades earlier. It has been a day of reflection, respect, and nostalgia. There has been no jingoism, no chest-thumping, and no satisfaction. Just regret and sorrow, for millions lost, and lessons still not learned.
I will not be here for the 200th anniversary of that war. I doubt very much that I will see the centenary of the Second World War either, or for that matter, the Korean War. But I was around for this one, which is more than can be said for those that fought in it. They are no longer here, to be able to tell us their individual stories. Thanks to film, TV, radio, and newspapers, we do have some first-hand tales of their experiences. They are usually harrowing, often touching, and to our modern eyes and ears, they may seem naive and innocent. Whatever we think of them now, we at least owe them one thing. It is an easy thing, and takes little effort. They did things that we probably could not do, or want to do, They did them for reasons that seemed important at the time, and in the context of history, had a relevance in the development of Europe, and opposition to belligerence. In return, we can do one small thing.
We can remember them.