“Opened a violent bombardment on the German lines
7am a village blown up by our mine and 7.30 advance started
We were the 4th Battalion to go over, which we did about an hour later
The short but terrible rush through the fierce curtain fire with men falling on all sides I shall never forget
High explosive shells fell all round us
The sights I saw are too terrible to write about & men almost blown to pieces were lying side by side
Unable to proceed further, the order to retire was given and I thanked God that I came through the terrible ordeal unhurt
I went to work in our front line at night but had to come away as it was almost blown to pieces
There again I saw dead and wounded lying side by side
Some were moaning and others had so far lost there [sic] reason that they were laughing and singing.”
– Private W. Roberts, July 1916 [x]
Last year, my school organised a ‘Trenches Trip’ to France and Belgium for a weekend with aims of broadening our understanding of World War 1 to accompany our history course. I walked through the trenches; explored a strip of the Battle of the Somme; visited mass graves of honourable men, British, American, French, German, and many more, who sacrificed themselves in battle for their nation; and stopped at Menin Gate for the Missing war memorial in Ypres. Not only was it eye-opening to walk on the same ground as these men who had laid down their lives for freedom, but it was also chilling to listen to vivid descriptions and recounts of the events that had happened where we stood.
We drove past the grave of George Llewelyn Davies, known to many as the inspiration for Peter Pan. He volunteered for service when Britain entered World War 1. He received a commission as a second lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and served in the trenches in Flanders. He died of a gunshot wound to the head at the age of 21. To see George Llewelyn Davies represented as Peter Pan, and all other soldiers who had lost their lives too young as the Lost Boys in a well-known fairytale, in its own twisted way, made me content to know that through these representations, these boys would never be forgotten. Nonetheless, having been exposed to so much history, I began to grasp the horror and brutality of war.
Recently, on Sunday 2nd of November, a padre who had served in Afghanistan delivered a sermon in our chapel service. She began the sermon by describing her distinct memory of Remembrance Day when she was a child, where men who had served in the First World War and the Second World War stood and recited the words of ‘For The Fallen’, thinking that it was only old men who stood and spoke these words aloud at ceremonies such as these. It wasn’t until she served in Afghanistan, when a boy, around 18 years old, had been killed that she spoke those words and slipped into the shoes of the ‘old men’ in her childhood memory. Her words were touched me, they were thoughtful and powerful; through them, she delivered experience, loss, and what can only be described as part of her soul.
Last summer, I lost a friend of mine to a freak accident. It was sudden and unexpected, and I couldn’t quite grasp the fact that I would never see him again. It was only then that I began to understand the meaning of the word ‘loss’ in its cruelest form. Prior to this, I had been lucky enough that during the 16 years that I had been on this planet, I hadn’t lost anyone close to me. This is not to say that what I felt and experienced was any where near the pain and suffering that all the soldiers and families of these soldiers felt during the war – that would be immensely impudent. All I can say is that because of him, I had a glimpse of the overwhelming pain these people had felt; ‘we will remember them’ suddenly had a such a personal and profound meaning. I will always remember him, the same way that families remembered their lost loved ones, because to forget him is to undermine the things he has done in his life for me, for his family, and for his friends. To forget the soldiers who gave their life fighting for their country is to undermine the bloodshed and atrocity they had to endure so that we could have a greater state of peace and freedom today.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Written By: Mint Kovavisarach