Quick! Name a heroic action in World War I. I bet you can’t.
Modern European attitudes to war and nationalism were largely shaped by that most patriotic of wars.
Passchendaele, The Somme, Verdun, Galipolli. The names of the battles are associated in our minds with tragedy and disaster. The names of the generals will forever conjure up images of incompetence. Even the names of the poets – Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves – cry out to us with sadness and pain.
Hostilities in that terrible war ended at 11 minutes past 11 o’clock on the 11th of November, 1918. On Sunday, at that same time, there will be a parade followed by a remembrance service at the granite war memorial that stands in the corner of every common, in every village in Britain.
My grandfather, who fought in World War II, took me to the service every year when I was very young. When I was older, I led the parade as the senior cadet in the Senior Service and, later still, I marched with real soldiers and sailors in the huge parades in the Navy towns of Plymouth and Portsmouth.
The sound of a bugle playing The Last Post still tugs at my tear ducts and I still can’t say the prayer that follows the two minute silence without my voice breaking.
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.