Last week was one of reflection and remembrance. On Monday we were privileged to be at the vigil at Westminster Abbey as one by one the candles were blown out until only one beside the tomb of the Unknown Soldier was snuffed out. On Tuesday we stood in the moat of the Tower of London, humbled and very moved, as a lone bugler sounded the Last Post amidst a blood red sea of poppies.
I have ordered my poppy in remembrance of my great uncle George. I have his cigarette case that he was carrying when he was shot in Flanders. He died a month later. I never knew him but I will remember him.It is difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of the slaughter, each poppy representing someone’s child or relative. It is impossible to imagine the horror of the trenches while standing amongst such beauty. Torn, broken bodies become flowers; gunfire and screams are replaced by music. We cannot begin to understand or relate but we are at least doing what we can to remember.
In this week of remembrance I read this letter in The Times;
Amid the heartfelt tributes to the fallen of the First World War over the past weeks, there is another group that we should honour too.
They did grow old as we that were left grew old, Age did weary them and the years condemn — they returned, many maimed and crippled for life. I remember our grandfather, gassed as a teenager and his lungs partially destroyed, gasping for breath for his remaining 50 years.
888,246 died, but millions were wounded both physically and mentally. A whole generation suffered and continued to suffer even while a second war began. Another generation fought, died and were wounded. Since 1945, smaller conflicts have taken their toll and their wounded live with us now.
This week we will hear who will be competing in Prince Harry’s Invictus Games and then, in September, we will cheer on our British Armed Forces team. Young men and women will overcome their injuries and compete with wounded warriors from other nations. They will inspire us and show extraordinary determination to face the future with courage.
Our wounded of today are made of the same stuff as those of the world wars but they will not be represented by poppies nor have candles lit in their memory. They are alive and they want to live their lives, independent and fulfilled.
That’s where we can help. Today’s support for our wounded is extraordinary. For the first time we have Recovery Centres and coordinated programmes giving support and retraining. Sophisticated prosthetics and medical advances give our wounded warriors opportunities beyond any ever seen before. There is hope but it must continue for years to come, growing not fading, as the memory of these conflicts retreats. Our young men and women will grow old, age will weary them and the years condemn. This time we must do more than remember the dead. This time we must ensure that we continue to care for our living. That is how we can honour them.