GP Taylor: Sacrifice that must never be forgotten

THE most poignant moments in my life as a priest have always been around the time of Armistice Day. The November fogs would swirl around the door of the church and worshippers would stand before the memorial and place poppy wreaths.

This was something that I did every year and every year, those who I had not seen at church for 12 months would come along and join in with this act of remembering all those who had given their lives in wars and campaigns so that we could live in peace. This one day cut into the business of many ordinary lives and people for their own reasons felt they had to take part in something very special.

As I read the names of those who died, it was always very clear that these were ordinary people who gave up their jobs and families and gave up their lives for the greater good.

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Some people will say that war and conflict is wrong and I would tend to agree. However, there are times in life when the bully has to be stood up against and the man hitting you with a stick is hit back with an even bigger stick. For some, peace is never an option as they seek to spread their warped ideologies. War is often the only way to stop them.

In war, there is always loss and sacrifice and the bravery of those who died must never be forgotten. It was Eisenhower who told his press corps to photograph the horrors of the Concentration Camps so that people could never deny that it happened.

It is unbelievable that less than 70 years later there are people who would want us to forget the past and do away with Remembrance Day. There are also those who would seek the subject of the Holocaust to be dropped from the curriculum of schools for fear it offends a particularly vocal religious group.

Lord Baker, the former Education Secretary, even suggested that the teaching about the Nazis and the Holocaust should be dropped from the curriculum as it might make us see Germany in a negative light. In that case we should stop teaching children about the Irish Famine and the Croke Park massacre in case the British are seen as heartless murderers. History is history and it is vitally important that future generations learn the mistakes of the past before they become the tragedies of the future.

The only aspect of remembrance that I have difficulty with is the place of religion. What seems to be forgotten is that in both wars, people of many different faiths fought against tyranny. Many Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs died for our freedom. Those that the Allies fought against even prayed to the same God asking for victory and carried the words “God is with us” on their belt buckles.

Perhaps it is time for that which so easily divides us to bow out of our act of remembering and make it a totally secular event.

I am always proud to wear a poppy. This year, I bought mine from a veteran Paratrooper stood on a street corner in the rain. I thanked him for fighting for me so that I could live in a free country. He smiled and said the word “anytime”. I fought hard to hold back the tears. In that one word that man assured me he would gladly do it again.

His bravery and selflessness of service along with those like him ensures that I can write what I want, be who I want and do want I want.

He fought for the rights of freedom so that we can be the diverse nation we are today. He fought for the freedom of the Anarchists who burnt police cars in London and the fundamentalists who burn poppies and call our soldiers murderers.

Without the bravery of our soldiers neither would have the liberty they have today and they, too, would have become a burnt offering on the altar of tyranny and oppression.

As time goes on, it is evermore important to make sure that young people are fully aware of the sacrifice made so that they can enjoy their freedom.

Almost 50 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24 cannot say when the First World War started and 60 per cent do 
not know when it ended. November 11 should be made a national holiday and 
its message taught vigorously in our schools.

As we stand in silence, let us never forgot those who gave up their today for our tomorrow as we really do need reminding of the horrors of war and the brave souls ready to die for our freedom.

GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.