Posts Tagged ‘those’

Respect those who fight for their country – and for our freedom

November 9th, 2014

Fittingly, the online canadian pharmacy last of 888,246 poppies to complete the display will be planted on Armistice Day. That final poppy recalls the life of Pte George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. He was one of the first to be involved in the fighting at the outbreak of war, having participated in one of the British Expeditionary Force’s earliest campaigns at Mons, in 1914. He survived being gassed and the harrowing experience of the Somme, and is believed to have been the last British soldier to fall.

It is to the soldiers of the trenches, such as Pte Ellison, that our thoughts will inevitably turn today on Remembrance Sunday. Yet we must not forget that the attritional battle in the trenches was just part of a vast war effort by men and women, Service and civilian, from across the globe. It was a war fought over a sprawling canvas, both on land and at sea, defeating the U-boat blockade and winning the battle of the Atlantic.

But the poppies at the Tower don’t just remind us of the sacrifice of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the First World War, but also of those who followed them in later conflicts – those who stepped on to the beaches of Normandy 30 years later, those who fought in Korea, and those who, more recently, have fought in the heat of Iraq and on the dusty plains of Helmand.

Particularly this year, as we conclude our combat operations in Afghanistan, we remember those who have died and who have suffered life-changing injuries. And we particularly think of their families.

Yet, at the same time as we remember their sacrifice, we should also remember their service. The thousands of personnel who served in Afghanistan from all three Services have achieved an enormous amount. Through their efforts, they have made that country more secure and ensured that millions more Afghans can receive an education and experience a better quality of life. They have put that country on a road to recovery.

Above all, they have succeeded in our principal strategic purpose: stopping terrorists from using Afghanistan to mount attacks on British people on British streets.

And already, our forces have turned their service to new threats – policing Baltic airspace to deter Russian aggression; targeting the Isil menace in Iraq; helping to combat the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

Reflecting on the service of our Armed Forces over the years has another powerful effect. By recalling their fortitude, we come to a greater appreciation of what service itself means.

We appreciate that those soldiers, sailors and airmen were not just fighting for their country, they were fighting for our freedom and our future. It is service that connects all our Armed Forces past, present and future.

So today, as we come together as a nation, either standing at the Cenotaph or conducting acts of remembrance, let there be pride for the service, as well as sorrow for the sacrifice.

We will remember the fallen not just with sadness, but also with eternal respect and gratitude, in the knowledge that we are living the future they fought for.


World War Two

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The bravest of all are those veterans who can keep a secret

November 7th, 2014

By day Roberts was a humble banker, but his alter ago, Jack King, was central to national security. When his role was revealed, his daughter was astonished. “We’re still reeling from it,” she said. Her father was not around to tell her himself, for he had taken his secret to the grave, in 1972.

Suburban bank clerk Eric Roberts

And while it would be bad news for spy novelists and espionage thriller directors if everyone kept tight lipped for ever, I cannot help feeling astonishing, redoubled admiration for those brave souls who are not only prepared to risk life and limb in the service of their country, but also willing to forgo any applause for having done so.

That is selfless heroism of a rare kind. Yet it is the heroism that I saw time and again as obits editor at the Telegraph, when stories of eye-popping wartime bravery emerged only because documents were found after someone’s death. We also frequently wrote sentences such as: “Her military exploits only came to light when, for a school project, her grandchild asked her about what she had done during the war. It was the first time she had discussed it in 55 years.”

Sometimes we ran something along the lines of: “He rarely discussed his service after the war, merely stating that he had fought alongside many brave men.” The full details only emerged in records held at the National Archives.

You have to admire that reticence, diffidence even. Take Rose Robertson, for example. She died in 2011 aged 94.

“Sworn to lifelong secrecy,” our obit stated, “she underwent tough counter-interrogation training. For the rest of her life she was very reluctant to speak about her secret work. On the rare occasions when she did, it was with self-effacing modesty, though it was clear that her memories caused her considerable distress.”

Doubtless many spies and special forces soldiers are left in “considerable distress” by the memories of what they have gone though. How that distress must be exacerbated by the loneliness of not being able to tell anyone.

War correspondents, who suffer their fair share of PTSD, sometimes say that they are spared the worst mental hangover because they relentlessly tell and retell the stories of their scrapes. In fact there is little they like better. Rob O’Neill didn’t have that option, that comfort. And there seems little doubt that he was an extremely courageous man. How can anyone who has endured less possibly condemn him?

But that only confirms the point that the greatest heroes are those who you will never know about, at least in their life times, because they just don’t talk about it. They all deserve a medal. A big one. They just won’t ever be able to wear it in public.

Thinker, Failure, Soldier, Jailer… – An Anthology of The Telegraph’s Greatest Ever Obituaries


World War Two

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