Posts Tagged ‘fallen’

Remembrance Sunday: Queen leads nation in tribute to the fallen

November 8th, 2015

Dressed in her customary all-black ensemble with a clutch of scarlet poppies pinned against her left shoulder, she stepped forward following the end of the two-minute silence marked by the sounding of Last Post by 10 Royal Marine buglers.

The Queen laid her wreath at the foot of the Sir Edwin Lutyens Portland stone monument to the Glorious Dead, then stood with her head momentarily bowed.

In recent days, she has discussed her own family’s loss in the First World War, specifically her uncle, Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, killed in northern France in 1915 and whose body has never been recovered. But after seven decades mourning the losses from so many conflicts at that exact spot, who knows what ghosts flitted though her thoughts.

Queen Elizabeth II at the Cenotaph for the 2015 Remembrance Service

She was joined by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who was invited to the Cenotaph for the first time to lay a wreath marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by British troops.

Watched by his wife Queen Maxima, who stood next to the Duchess of Cambridge in the Royal Box, the King laid a wreath marked with the simple message, “In remembrance of the British men and women who gave their lives for our future.”

Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Queen Maxima of the Netherland and Sophie Countess Wessex at the Cenotaph

His was not the only debut at the Cenotaph. So too, the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who wore both suit and (red) poppy for the occasion.

His bow as he laid a wreath marked with the words “let us resolve to create a world of peace” was imperceptible – and not enough for some critics. Yet unlike the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Battle commemorations earlier this year, Mr Corbyn did join in with the singing of the national anthem.

Remebrance Day The DUke of York, Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge

Later he attended a separate remembrance service at a war memorial in Manor Gardens in his north Islington constituency. Mr Corbyn arrived at the event with his dark blue tie switched to red and accompanied by his wife, Laura Alvarez. After a short speech in which he spoke of the “trauma” of Remembrance Day and honouring the fallen, Mr Corbyn read Futility, written by another of the Great War poets, Wilfred Owen.

Quietly watching among the small crowd was Islington resident and 90-year-old D Day veteran Ken Watts. Then just a teenager, Watts was among the first wave to land on the Normandy beaches with the Devonshire Regiment. Until that day he had never seen a dead body, but then a friend was gunned down standing right next to him.

“I am here to remember the people who died fighting for their country,” he says. As for Mr Corbyn’s views on the futility of war, he didn’t wish to be drawn. “He can discuss it all he wants but he wasn’t there, and I was,” he added.

Of course, honouring those who were there, in whichever of this country’s many conflicts they served, was what yesterday’s events were all about.

The Duke of Edinburgh - Remembrance Day

Following the end of the official service at the Cenotaph, the Massed Bands stirred, the notes from their pipes and drums bouncing off the grand buildings of Whitehall, and a mammoth procession more than 10,000-strong (9,000 of whom were veterans) began marching up from Horse Guard’s Parade.

As they passed they were saluted by the Duke of Cambridge who attended in his RAF Flight Lieutenant’s uniform. Earlier in proceedings, he had laid a wreath at the same time as Prince Harry – wearing the Captain’s uniform of the Blues and Royals – and the Duke of York. It was the first time members of the Royal family have done so ensemble in order to shave minutes off an already long ceremony for the more elderly veterans.

Time takes its inevitable toll on even the most stoic among us, and this year only a dozen World War Two veterans marched with the Spirit of Normandy Trust, a year after the Normandy Veterans’ Association disbanded.

Within their ranks was 95-year-old former Sapper Don Sheppard of the Royal Engineers. Sheppard was of the eldest on parade and was pushed in his wheelchair by his 19-year-old grandson, Sam, who in between studying at Queen Mary University volunteers with the Normandy veterans.

“It is because of my admiration for them,” he says. “I see them as role models and just have the upmost respect for what they did.”

While some had blankets covering their legs against the grey November day, other veterans of more recent wars had only stumps to show for their service to this country during 13 long years of war in Afghanistan.

As well as that terrible toll of personal sacrifice, the collective losses – and triumphs – of some of the country’s most historic regiments were also honoured yesterday.

The Gurkha Brigade Association – marking 200 years of service in the British Army – marched to warm ripples of applause. The King’s Royal Hussars, represented yesterday by 126 veterans, this year also celebrate 300 years since the regiment was raised

They were led by General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Nato and Colonel of the regiment who himself was marching for the first time.

“We are joined by a golden thread to all those generations who have gone before us,” he said. “We are who we are, because of those that have gone before us.”


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Remembrance Day poems: 10 poems for the fallen

November 5th, 2014

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The Soldier – Rupert Brooke

During the First World War, Brooke joined the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and died of an infection in 1915 en route to Gallipoli. The most famous lines from his poem The Soldier are often read in remembrance of those who die far from home fighting for their country, suggesting that soldiers take a part of their home nation with them to the grave.

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England.

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Drummer Hodge – Thomas Hardy

Hardy’s Drummer Hodge uses a similar device to Brooke’s The Soldier. It was written before Brooke’s more famous lines, however, and was composed by Hardy in 1899 in response to the Anglo-Boer War. It focuses on the very young British drummers – usually boys in their early teens – who accompanied soldiers into battle overseas and faced death alongside them.

Yet portion of that unknown plain

Will Hodge for ever be;

His homely Northern breast and brain

Grow to some Southern tree,

And strange-eyed constellations reign

His stars eternally.

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In Flanders Fields – John McRae

Written in 1915 from the perspective of dead soldiers lying in their graves, John McRae’s poem urges the reader to avenge slaughtered men’s deaths. Almost as soon as it was written, the poem became hugely popular and was used in motivational posters and armed forces recruitment leaflets across Britain and North America during the First World War. As the first war poem to refer to poppies as a symbol of remembrance, the poem is still read across the world on Remembrance Day.

McRae was a Canadian doctor and Lieutenant Colonel in the First World War, fighting and overseeing medical care in Boulogne with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He died of pneumonia on the battlefield in January 1918.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

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Charge of the Light Brigade – Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This narrative poem about the noted battle in the Crimean war was written by Tennyson in 1854. It has become one of the defining war poems, capturing the thrill of battle as well as the futility of conflict and the brutal reality of fighting. It was widely popular at the time, and one couplet in particular has passed into the vernacular: “Theirs not to reason why,/ Theirs but to do and die”.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

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And Death Shall Have No Dominion – Dylan Thomas

Written between the wars in 1933, Thomas’s poem takes on a broad theme of remembrance and the eternity of the human spirit.

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

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An Irish Airman Foresees His Death – WB Yeats

Yeats’s poem in the voice of an Irish airman doesn’t glorify fighting – in fact, speaking as the soldier, he says, “Those that I fight I do not hate,/ Those that I guard I do not love”. Instead it’s a measured meditation on being in the firing line during war, and being drawn to “a tumult in the clouds”.

The years to come seemed waste of breath,

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.

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Adlestrop – Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas chose to enlist in the Artists Rifles in 1915. Though not much of his poetry deals explicitly with war, the war is often referred to obliquely. Adlestrop is a haunting portrait of the quiet calm of England, in contrast to the horrific fighting taking place abroad, as remembered by Thomas when his train made a stop in the Cotswolds just before war broke out in 1914. Thomas was killed in action at Arras on Easter Monday, April 1917. Adlestrop was published soon afterwards.

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

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MCMXIV – Philip Larkin

Larkin’s heartbreakingly poignant poem reflects on the patriotic optimism of the young men queueing up to enlist in 1914. The poem was written in 1964, when some critical distance from both wars had been reached. In the wake of colossal destruction, Larkin looks back with devastatingly sharp hindsight at the doomed notion that war would be akin to “an August Bank Holiday lark” for those about to fight.

Never such innocence,

Never before or since,

As changed itself to past

Without a word – the men

Leaving the gardens tidy,

The thousands of marriages,

Lasting a little while longer:

Never such innocence again.

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Hear Larkin reading MCMXIV

Dulce et Decorum Est – Wilfred Owen

Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est, written during the First World War, was published posthumously in 1920. It brings vividly to life the desperate human misery of warfare, condemning and raging against the “lie” that war is noble. Owen served on the front line in the Manchester Regiment, suffering severe shell shock, and was killed in action on November 4 1918. His mother was informed of his death on Armistice Day, seven days later.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.

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Final leap to honour Arnhem's fallen

September 22nd, 2014

The battalion was led by Lt Col John Frost, whose character was played by Anthony Hopkins in the Richard Attenborough film A Bridge Too Far, which was based on the battle.

However, having been unable to defend the bridge, Cpl Bloys was among many paratroopers captured by the SS and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

He managed to escape but was captured once again. He then managed to escape for a second time with another soldier and the pair stole a car in which they managed to make it to American lines.

He last visited Arnhem in 2004 with his wife Doreen, who died six years later. Before his own death in February he described how the horrors of the fighting at Arnhem were still “fresh in my mind”.

“You can never really get it across to people about the horrors of battle. You are speaking to people one minute and then two minutes afterwards their life is finished. It was a terrible battle and was not well planned.”

On Saturday dozens of veterans of the assault, most of them in their nineties and either wheelchair bound or walking with the aid of sticks, watched as around 500 Allied troops jumped out of planes to commemorate the seven-decade anniversary of the Second World War operation.

Cpl Bloys was one of a number of veterans whose ashes were scattered by British paratroopers landing on Ginkel Heath, in a show of respect and camaraderie towards their predecessors.

This weekend his daughter-in-law Rita, who watched the jump with her husband Ian, among a crowd of around 40,000 people said the gesture was first suggested by a paratrooper who attended Cpl Bloys’s funeral in March. Cpl Bloys had died a month earlier aged 90.

Mrs Bloys, 65, said: “It is just an unofficial thing that they offered to do for us. My father-in-law was very fond of the area. In his later years he said he felt that the fighting had destroyed the area, but he came back here often.

“We just thought it would be fitting to leave a bit of him here. It seems like the final thing we can do for him. We are very emotional.”

Mr Bloys, 66, a former electrician for Ford from Hornchurch in Essex, said before the jump: “He never expressed a wish for what he wanted done with his ashes. But especially in the early days he used to come back here. The last time was on the sixtieth anniversary in 2004. He appreciated the way the Dutch people treated him. He was there for a few days and all the young children were asking for his autograph. It was like being a movie star.

“He was in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and then Arnhem but Arnhem was the one he mentioned the most.

“We want to do the right thing by him. This will be his last jump – I think he would appreciate that.”

Operation Market Garden saw more than 40,000 British, US, Canadian and Polish troops dropped behind the German lines at Arnhem in September 1944.

The attack was conceived by Field Marshal Montgomery to inflict a fatal blow on the Germans and bring the war to a close by the end of the year.

The aim of the operation was to capture a series of river crossings in German-occupied territory to allow Allied tanks to cross the Rhine and sweep into Germany.

However, despite early successes, strong resistance prevented troops from capturing the final bridge at Arnhem.

The British unexpectedly found themselves up against the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, leading to one of the most devastating and bloody battles of the war.

After nine days of street fighting between 17 and 25 September, and running out of food and ammunition, British forces were overwhelmed and forced to withdraw. An estimated 1,700 British soldiers lost their lives.

Yesterday Brig Nick Borton. the commander of 16 Air Assault Bde, whose paratroopers carried out yesterday’s commemoration jump, said the event had given serving troops the opportunity to highlight the “humbling exploits” of the Allied airborne forces 70 years ago.

This weekend Les Fuller, 93, who served as a private with 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment, told the Sunday Telegraph the commemoration at the site of the battle bought back “Massive memories. Memories I could hardly tell you about.”

Mr Fuller was badly wounded as he tried to make his way to the bridge. He said: “We had to detour around Oosterbeek and I finally finished up at the Rhine Pavilion where a fellow who had a howitzer across the other side of the river in a brick field spotted me (I didn’t spot him) and that’s when it came to an end for me.

“A fellow named Sgt Robinson, who was the Sgt medic of the 3rd Battalion, happened to come across me and he went up and got the crew of a tank that was parked just up the road to come and pick me up and hand me over for medical attention which I badly needed.”

Saturday’s event also included a commemoration service at a memorial at Ginkel Heath and a moment of silence as the Last Post was played, before both veterans and serving soldiers laid wreaths to remember the fallen.

The previous day thousands of cheering residents had lined Arnhem’s streets to look on as 83 British and Polish veterans walked or passed them in wheelchairs as part of a week-long commemoration of Operation Market Garden.

Alec Hall, 92, who was a medic during the battle, said of the commemorations: “It brings back so many memories. It’s like it was yesterday. I often think about those few days.”

Bill Carter, 90, who served as a private with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, saluted the landing paratroopers as he watched the drop from his wheelchair, accompanied by three generations of his family – the youngest of which was his 15-year-old grandson William Wilding.

Mr Carter said he was proud to return to the site, adding that the event brought back “a lot of good memories” of the men he served with but also “a lot of sad memories” of the battle.

Tom Hicks from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was another of the veterans attending Saturday’s drop, which was carried out using mainly Hercules aircraft as well as a Dakota from the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The 95-year-old said that Dutch locals had initially thought that they had been liberated from the Nazis when he and his fellow paratroopers landed.

“They brought milk out and flowers and thought the war was over. They thought they were liberated.

“And we knew there was a long way to go before they were liberated. Children [were] holding your hand and skipping… thinking ‘oh, back to normal life’.”

The retreat by Allied forces meant that it was another eight months before they secured a victory which ended the war in Europe.

Mr Hicks added: “I think the message is that even though you are beaten, you never give up, even against all odds.”


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