November 16, 2013

It’s not about politics of conflict but human suffering

Taking part in Remembrance Day is a humbling experience – whether you are actually at a ceremony or simply observing the two minute silence in the privacy of your own home.

Like the passing of the seasons, there is always a side-debate at this time of year as to whether wearing a poppy – as I always do – is a glorification of the First World War, and war in general. I have never understood this argument. The poppy, to my mind, doesn’t signify that the wearer believes that war is great and we should engage on another one as soon as possible, but rather recognises the heavy toll and sacrifice that wars take on those who fought in them, regardless of on which side.

It’s not about the politics of conflict, it’s about the human suffering that came and comes about as a consequence.

During November, I spent a couple of Saturday mornings shaking a tin for the Royal British Legion, and I was, as always, heartened by the generosity and good-will of residents.

On Remembrance Sunday I attended the ceremony at the Cenotaph and was similarly moved by the laying of the wreaths, and that moment of complete stillness; the incongruity of absolute silence amidst the usual noise and bustle of London heightened the solemnity of the occasion.

I read a story this week of a veteran, Harold Jellicoe Perceval, who had been involved in the Dambusters raid during the Second World War.

Mr Perceval died at his nursing home towards the end of October; he had never married and had no close family. His obituary was picked up by his local paper and then the internet, with many commenting that it was so sad that so few mourners would be at the funeral of a WW2 veteran on Armistice Day. His story touched a great number of people, who turned up in their hundreds at Lytham Park Crematorium to pay their last respects. These are simple demonstrations of respect and decency: donating to charities which help ex-servicemen, observing two minutes of silence, or feeling empathy for a stranger.

It’s life-affirming – in a world that often seems brutal and unpleasant – that it always brings out kindness and compassion in those it touches.

| Bucks Herald, The Bercow Column