It is right to remember all the sacrifices of the world’s wars

UK Territorials take part in the ceremony at the British War Cemetery.
Members of the Ipswich bra

UK Territorials take part in the ceremony at the British War Cemetery. Members of the Ipswich branch of the Royal British Legion, attending the Armistice Day commemoration in the French town of Arras. - Credit: Archant/Geater

By the time you read this, I will be back from Arras in northern France where I marked Armistice Day on Tuesday with members of a delegation from Ipswich.

This year’s commemorations take on a particularly poignant note as they are the first to fall within the centenary of the start of the First World War.

No one alive today fought in that war – and there are only a few people with first-hand childhood memories of the conflict.

For the vast majority of us the Great War is a conflict we heard about from our parents or grandparents, or we read about in books, watched television documentaries about, or have read newspaper articles.

But visiting the battlefields of Northern France is a moving experience. It isn’t the personal experience that it was 50 years ago for veterans and their families, but it is thought-provoking nevertheless.

I can’t personally feel deeply emotional about the death of my grandfather’s cousin who died in 1915 and whose name is inscribed on the memorial at Vimy Ridge and on Theberton war memorial, but I did feel this provided me with a small personal connection to the “War to end all Wars”.

And it is important for all of us to remember the sacrifices that were made on the bloody fields of northern France, Flanders, and elsewhere in the First World War.

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It is also important to recall the loss of life across the globe during the Second World War – and in all the conflicts since then, from Korea through Malaya, Aden, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan.

You don’t necessarily have to support the politics behind the decision to send in British troops to honour the sacrifice of those who lost their lives.

For that reason, I’ve never really understood the controversy about whether you should or should not buy and wear a poppy.

I cannot understand the argument that to do so is showing support for war. It is a symbol of support for those who have been injured or killed in the service of their country and I cannot see why that is controversial.

But to return to the battlefields of the First World War.

Over the last few months I have found out much more about the conflict than I had ever known before. I understand more about how the conflict started and why it was so important to crush the Kaiser’s militarism. I now know that it is not right to see it as a futile conflict fought by generals with no regard for the men under their command.

Seeing the care with which the cemeteries and memorials to the fallen are maintained in France is really humbling – as is the fact that the British are still seen as their great ally.

Because while our losses were huge, about 900,000, the French lost twice as many, twice the proportion of their population.