Today is Remembrance Day, the Sunday closest to Armistice Day and, as such, many people have been wearing red or white poppies and visiting cenotaphs to remember the dead, both civilian and military, that gave their lives in wars across the world.
Tomorrow is 11th November and 95 years ago it was the day of the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. Armistice Day is a day to remember the sacrifices made by many, too many, people over the years in order to protect the ways of life back home.
The First World War was the fifth deadliest war of all time and was known as the war to end all wars. In terms of human casualties it is beaten only in modern times by the Second World War, which killed an estimated 40 – 72 million people, which was roughly 1.7%–3.1% (according to wikipedia, that well known and reliable source). World War One killed between 15 and 65 million people, including estimates of the Spanish flu epidemic, that killed my great grandfather, Rev. Frederick St. John Corbett, who had been vicar of St George in the East in London. He was an army chaplain during the war, died shortly afterwards and is commemorated with the war dead in Trinity College, Dublin. My grandmother told me she only went to see the plaque once, so when I went about 10 years ago I took a photo for her. It was on her mantle piece for a while, I’m not sure really where it went.
My grandfather was a WW1 private in the 15th Highland Light Infantry, a runner in the trenches and other than that I know very little about his time in the war. Dad said he didn’t really talk about it ever.
My granddad was in WW2, he fought in Burma, his brother manned an anti aircraft gun, my nan made parts for spitfires. On the other side of the family, my great uncle, Hugh Corbett, served on the destroyers HMS Brazen, which was sunk in 1940, HMS Lookout – probably the most bombed destroyer to survive the war – and HMS Wheatland, of which he was captain. He was mentioned in dispatches for his “conspicuous cheerfulness under air attack” and was awarded the DSC, and the DSO in 1945.
I think there were members of the family who died during the Second World War, but I don’t know anything about them. After a certain amount of time, people stop talking about them and eventually there is no-one else to remember. So tomorrow, I’ll be talking to my Granddad and asking him about what he did during the war, about his brothers and sisters and what they did. It’s important to remember what happened. As a family, we were pretty lucky that so many survived, and had they not, I’d not be here.
Unfortunately the wars of 1914 and 1939 didn’t finish the bloodshed. Currently there are 11 wars recognised by the UN that cause at least 1000 violent deaths per year, including civilians. Those that have killed over 1000 people from 2012 to the present are ongoing in Columbia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Mexico (drug war) Syria and Iraq. The list doesn’t include the ongoing conflicts that kill less than 1000, but still no less tragic for those affected. Iran, the Philippines, North and South Korea, the Kashmir province and Myanmar for example.
I know that I am extremely lucky to live in a time of peace for my country. I’m am lucky to have the opportunity to object to decisions made by my government (and I often do). I have the opportunity as a woman to vote, practice whatever religion I choose or not have a religion if I choose, to work in any job. I know that I am able to do this in part because of those who fought, and died, in world wars. People who stood up for what they believed in. There are still people doing this around the world.
November is a time when people are gearing up for Christmas. We have so many things, yet feel the need to buy more and more for each other at this time of year. Perhaps instead of spending £2, £5 or £10 on something for someone for the sake of getting a present we could donate to organisations that are helping those in need, who are victims of wars, uprisings, political silencing, religious persecution…
So I’m going to put some links up that I hope you’ll follow, read and have a think about.
The Red Cross are supporting refugees in Syria. So far roughly 2 million refugees have fled Syria, 1 million of whom are children. The Red Cross VOLUNTEERS (what amazing people) put their lives in danger to support people who truly have nothing left.
Amnesty International works to raise the profile of he plights of those who cannot speak out for themselves. They stand up for women’s rights, free speech and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people worldwide. They stand up against discrimination, torture, arms trades, forced evictions and death penalties.
Every year, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides emergency medical care to millions of people caught in crises in more than 60 countries around the world. MSF provides assistance when catastrophic events — such as armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, or natural disasters — overwhelm local health systems. MSF also assists people who face discrimination or neglect from their local health systems or when populations are otherwise excluded from health care.
War Child works to rebuild the lives of children who have been affected by wars. They work in three areas Protection, Education and Livelihoods. By addressing all three they are able to support children and their families in the short term as well as setting them up for a better long-term future
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda – Eric Bogle
Now when I was a young man, I carried me pack, and I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback, well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915, my country said son, It’s time you stopped rambling, there’s work to be done.
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun, and they marched me away to the war.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda, as the ship pulled away from the quay
And amidst all the cheers, the flag-waving and tears, we sailed off for Gallipoli
And how well I remember that terrible day, how our blood stained the sand and the water
And of how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay, we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk he was waiting, he’d primed himself well. He shower’d us with bullets,
And he rained us with shell. And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.
But the band played Waltzing Matilda, when we stopped to bury our slain.
We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs, then we started all over again.
And those that were left, well we tried to survive, in that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive, though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head, and when I woke up in my hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead. Never knew there was worse things than dyin’.
For I’ll go no more waltzing Matilda, all around the green bush far and free
To hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs-no more waltzing Matilda for me.
So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed, and they shipped us back home to Australia.
The legless, the armless, the blind, the insane, those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay, I looked at the place where me legs used to be.
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me, to grieve, to mourn, and to pity.
But the band played Waltzing Matilda, as they carried us down the gangway.
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared, then they turned all their faces away
And so now every April, I sit on me porch, and I watch the parades pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march, reviving old dreams of past glories
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore. They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, what are they marching for? And I ask myself the same question.
But the band plays Waltzing Matilda, and the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear. Someday no one will march there at all.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda, who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong, who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?