At this time of the year we remember those who have died in the service of our country. We wear the red poppy as a mark of respect and on Remembrance Sunday we stand in silence and bow our heads in silent reflection in their honour.
Last year The Tower of London was surrounded by 888, 264 porcelain red poppies in what became a national commemoration of the fallen. No one who saw it will forget its extraordinary impact. Each poppy represented a person lost to war and a family shattered as a consequence; we will remember them.
While the last surviving soldier who fought in the First World War has died, we still have many who served in the Second amongst us. But they do now grow old. We do not have much time left to hear their stories and thank them for their service. We should, lest we regret it when it is too late.
One extraordinary old soldier is Vic Gregg. Vic was a Rifleman in the Rifle Brigade at El Alamein and then a Paratrooper at Arnhem. He survived being a prisoner of war and only avoided execution by escaping during the bombing raid on Dresden. He fought with the Partisans before returning to the grim poverty of post war Britain.
Vic flew back to Arnhem in a DC3 Dakota in 2010 as part of the H4H Bridge Too Far bike ride and laid a wreath to his mates who had not survived. He spoke to our fund raising cyclists as a fellow former cyclist and wonderful old soldier. It was a privilege to meet him. He has written about his life in his two books, Rifleman and Soldier, Spy; I highly recommend them.
Vic did not die in battle but he still lives with the scars of war. He suffered from the mental wounds that we now recognise as Post Traumatic Stress. He is not the only one who still lives with the consequences of war.
War is brutal and it can cause damage to those who serve in them on our behalf. Those who have served in more recent wars understand that. They may have come through physically unscathed but they carry the hidden scars and some will need help for years to come.
There has only been one year since VJ Day when we have not lost a Serviceman or woman in action, in 1969. So while we have not been fighting a world war, we have certainly not been at peace. Our Service personnel continue to serve abroad and risk their lives on a daily basis so that we can live safely at home.
At this time of year we remember the dead. Let us also remember those who will carry their physical and mental injuries for the rest of their lives; let's remember and listen to them, the living.
We must not fail or forget them.
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