AS WE survey, with mingled sadness and incredulity, the self-inflicted demise of the country we love, thoughts turn inexorably to those who gave their lives for it.
That we can never repay their debt of sacrifice has been a constant for most of us, certainly for those of middling age and above. My great uncle was killed in action in France in April 1918. My late father served in Germany in the final stages of the Second World War; for decades afterwards he sold poppies.
Growing up, there were sepia-stained photographs around the house and in albums – the haunting ranks of officers and men, principally those who fought in the Great War, many of them killed in action or badly wounded.
Raised in this milieu, or something kindred to it, as the majority of us were, one formed more than an abstract relationship with the Fallen. They were men of our century, our county, our country; in tangible ways, of our sensibility. Established early, such bonds seldom break.
Long before the self-indulgent woke madness which has engulfed us, the British war dead, particularly of the First World War, held a mirror to our faces. Most of us could never fully emulate their dignity and discipline; because of them, we would probably never need to, much less make the ultimate sacrifice. But we could at least honour them, we told ourselves, in the way we lived our lives. If we were fortunate, perhaps on occasion we might display faint echoes of their courage.
As a small boy, to be urged to ‘be a brave soldier’, after grazing one’s knee or bumping one’s head, was no mere figurative parental exhortation, but an affectionate gesture towards a shared national and familial story, with a practical purpose. Invariably, as both palliative and character-builder, it worked.
The mirror is still held, but its holders now cruelly mocked. Not necessarily overtly, though our twisted education system is working on it. The politically motivated ‘lions led by donkeys’ narrative (as if today’s Left cares a jot for the lions), one-sided focus on ‘waste’ and ‘slaughter’ and exclusively negative perception of Empire will one day, I suspect, put paid to national commemoration. Shameful as it was on its own terms, last year’s Cenotaph debacle, barring the public, including veterans, from Whitehall on the grounds of Covid, may have been a dry run.
More so, the graves of our war dead are danced on, their memory knowingly besmirched, to the jarring sound of British citizens (though many would disown the term) tearing the fabric of their country asunder; its institutions, its history, its spirit. The parts that the war dead, and all those who served, may still have recognised; indeed, deserved to recognise, for they were that fabric’s golden thread – and for much longer than this, we believed, its preservers.
Are the Left’s destructive blend of arrogance, ignorance and malice, and the relentless demographic transformation of this country, what they fought and gave their lives for? The question need only be posed.
Perhaps it should be mandatory for every schoolchild, better still university student, to visit at least one of the major Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries and monuments in France and Belgium. To be confronted with the evidence of self-sacrifice on such a vast scale might just jolt the young into seeing cultural Marxism and Britain-bashing for what it is – the grossest insult to the memory of our war dead, alien to everything they represented.
The unions would never stand for the idea, of course; or worse, even if the trips took place, the teachers’ interpretation would once more centre solely on the ‘waste’ and ‘slaughter’ of young lives. Given that 947,023 Empire solders died in the Great War, there is a rightful place for such words in the national conversation; but to disregard virtues of patriotism, selflessness and pride – and victory itself – is horribly to distort the lens.
In the meantime, living as conservatives in an increasingly self-loathing society, bereft of effective political or cultural leadership, we are in a kind of no-man’s land. The Fallen could not have credited our plight, any more than we can truly imagine theirs. But we must now, with renewed esteem, let the stoical example of those whom ‘age shall not weary . . . nor the years condemn’ be as much a source of inspiration as sorrow.