Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Fighting for our country, has it changed?

Poppy Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Sunday. What do these mean to you? The images in the media are often of ageing veterans of World Wars placing wreaths of poppies on stone memorials. This makes war seem far away and long ago, but there continue to be thousands of people serving all over the world. British men and women are currently risking their lives to protect and defend the UK and it’s allies and it’s important to remember them and their bravery too.

I want my daughters to know that there are people who have been fighting for their country, their way of life, for a long time. There is a lot of evil in the world, but there is good too. My eldest doesn’t understand war. Luckily she can’t imagine the suffering other children her age are facing as they flee from atrocities and I will keep her sheltered as long as I can from the horrific images which all too rarely make it into mainstream media. While I want to protect her, I also want her to know there are heroes who will protect her against bad people and that her Great Grandad (who she can only just remember) was one of those heroes.

A couple of years ago I interviewed two people who had seen active duty: my Grandad who served during and after World War 2 and a friend who served over 60 years later. Neither speak much of their service. I wanted to have more of an understanding about what it was like, and how much had changed over the decades. I originally published these interviews on a previous blog 2 years ago. My Grandad has since died and I wanted to revisit what was said.
A box of poppies

My Grandad


Why did you join the army? 

I was called up a week after I turned 18 because the war was on.

Have you seen active service?

I was in Italy and Austria during the war and Egypt and Palestine post war. Post war the fighting was between the Jews and Arabs and it was in many ways more dangerous as you didn't know what you were going into. 

How long were you in the army for? 

I was in the army for 4 1/2 years and away for all that time except for the first 9 months spent in training.

What did you miss most whilst serving?

It was so different to being at home that you put up with what you got. There were no comforts. Many nights you slept on the bonnet of the armoured truck. Post was received regularly so you had contact, but you couldn't telephone or anything like that (my Nana wrote a lot of letters to him throughout his time in the Army).

What were the good things about it?

At that age (18 to 22) the variety was good, you were doing things you had never done before and you were suddenly thrown into it without any choice.

How does the work of the army differ today from World War 2? 

There is still a risk of death etc if posted abroad so that hasn’t changed. When in barracks there is more drill now which we didn't really do even post war, you could always find an excuse to get out of it.

How important is the work of the Royal British Legion? 

It is very good if you need it and you are prepared to ask for it and have a necessity for it. They do good work and have some wonderful homes for old soldiers.

A black and white photograph of a 22 year old man in army uniform taken in 1947
My Grandad in 1947

My Friend


Why did you join the army?

I joined the Army for several reasons. Right from the start I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, where I could help make a real difference to people.   I valued the opportunity to be part of a highly effective and organised team entity, with the chance to make close friends and develop as a team player and as a leader.  I also wanted the chance to learn new skills, and see new places that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to do in my life.

Have you seen active service?  

I served in the Iraq War in 2006-07, for nearly 6 months, spending time in Basra and Baghdad.

What did you miss most whilst serving?

Operational conditions meant that many things or routines I was used to in normal life, and considered to be every day necessities or perhaps hadn’t even thought until I didn’t have them, were simply not available.

What were the good things about it?

I went out to do my part and serve in an operational environment, and that is what I did.  I have pride in doing my part as well as I could, and being an integral part of the team was always the best part for me.

How does the work of the army differ today to World War 2?

I have met Old Comrades from my Squadron who served in WW2 and landed on the D-Day beaches, or fought in other places to free Europe.  The work then and now is primarily the same, in the sense that soldiers still do the same fundamental job.  The way this is done is different in some ways in a different age, and some threats cannot be best met in the same ways.  Peacekeeping and asymmetric warfare have their own challenges, and the Army operates closely with other services and allies and multinational entities.

How important is the work of the Royal British Legion?

The Royal British Legion is an excellent charity doing amazing direct work to support beneficiaries, but also operates in ways that not all charities can, such as with regards to activities like comradeship and remembrance.  The Legion is not in itself the source of these good works, but is the custodian and facilitator of much of it, and helps ensure that the whole family of service and veteran charities can operate in a favourable environment. The Legion isn’t the only service charity, but all would be much weaker and find their jobs much harder to do without the Legion being around.


You can support the work on the Royal British Legion by buying a Poppy or donating on their website.

“Outside
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9 comments

  1. I really interesting post. We go to a Remembrance day service each year, for similar reasons, it's important for the children to understand and remember x

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  2. Such an interesting post and really fascinating to read the different insights. One of my Grandad's fought in the D-Day landings and actually lost his arm in battle. I never spoke to him about it and that is my biggest regret. We need to pass these stories on so that we remember. #outsidemywindow

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    1. When I read back on my notes I was so grateful that I had discussed it while I could. There is so much that is easily lost to time, and plenty of things I will never be able to pass on.

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  3. This year it is the 10th anniversary of the death of our friend's son, he died in Iraq on remembrance Sunday 2006. He was a Royal Marine & loved what he did, it is important for our young ones to know people are prepared to protect us still.

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    1. I'm so grateful none of my peers that I know have been hurt or injured. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. What a brilliant, interesting post. I'm making my 11 year-old read this as I know he'd find it interesting (he's obsessed with all things army), plus it's a great educational lesson as well. Thanks for drawing attention to this...

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  5. What a wonderful post, very interesting - but I see too that neither of your interviewees were going to open up beyond general terms. That may be part of their job, but it leaves service feeling very enigmatic.

    Thanks for linking up with #outsidemywindow, I hope you'll be back next time.

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