I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to be at war. I’m lucky to have been born into one of those generations who have never been caught up in war and battle. I’ve never been conscripted to fight for my country. I’ve never experienced the loss of loved ones to bombs and bullets in streets and homes.
I’m writing this during the two minutes silence. It seems a fitting way to spend the time. I’m contemplating my good fortune. I’m too old to have to fight now - never even came close to fighting really. No wars for me. I’ve got away with it. Eighty-five years ago, sixty years ago, maybe just last week if I'd joined the army, it may have been a very different story.
I’m spending these two minutes remembering those that didn’t get away with it, thinking about those brave others that won’t. I’m wondering if two minutes, one hundred and twenty seconds, is really long enough to honour all these heroes.
I’m thinking of Frank. Remembering his stick, Akabar, a ‘gudgeon. Frank the national service soldier, proud to do his time, but ready to fight if he was needed to.
I’m thinking of Uncle Alf and an afternoon spent on the cricket field, the bombs going off all around us as he remembered his friends killed in the Great War.
I’m thinking about Wootton Bassett. Soldiers carrying a casket draped with the Union flag - crowds lining the streets in respect.
I don’t know why but for a few seconds then Misty popped into my head. She often does, sorry.
I can’t say what it is like to be at war, I’ve no experience of it. I’m not even sure that I could stand even two minutes of the fear that war must bring. What must it be like to live at war for days, weeks, months, even years? What is it like to spend your life waiting for a bullet to rip through your helmet and into your head, wondering if you’ll step on a mine and get blown into a thousands pieces and be gone?
I have no idea.
But here’s someone that did.
Dulce et decorum est by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime. -
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.