Prince Philip and our debt to last of ‘wartime generation’ – Jayne Dowle

THE passing of the Duke of Edinburgh at the age of 99 has given us all cause to stop and take stock.

That he is being remembered with such warmth reminds us how we have found a new gratitude towards the generation born before the Second World War.

Whether they were on active service or battling on the home front, these men and women were just like us, only they faced challenges which we have often struggled to comprehend.

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The steady loss of survivors – the respected politician Dame Shirley Williams, a leading architect of the comprehensive school system, passed away this week at the age of 90 – brings their contribution to our lives into sharp focus.

This was the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on their diamond wedding anniversary in 2007. Photo: Tim Graham / PA.

As a young man, Prince Philip served in the Royal Navy, given his first posting in January 1940 as a midshipman on the battleship HMS Ramillies.

Born in June 1921, he would have been just 18 years old when he went into battle. The same age as my son, Jack. And I worry every time Jack goes out for a drive with his friends. We parents could do worse than put a few things into context, especially those of us with over-protective tendencies.

For many young people today, this level of bravery and self-sacrifice, putting your own fears aside in the name of defending the realm, is unimaginable. However, it is at the heart of the veneration in which the late Duke and many others of his generation are held.

With respect to the young people who have chosen to serve in the armed forces or take on other frontline roles in public service, ask a typical 18-year-old today what their biggest worry is and they will probably say passing their A-levels, or finding a job that they really want to do.

Tributes continue to be paid to Prince Philip who died last Friday at the age of 99.

They have never been asked to leave all that is familiar – their friends, families and homes – and put their lives on the line for a cause that they might not even wholeheartedly believe in.

This strikes their value system in deeper ways than we might imagine. They cherish personal freedom above all. This means that there has, until recently, been a huge disconnect between the very oldest generation and those born after 2000.

This has changed during the last year. We have all been privileged to find an inspirational role model in Captain Sir Tom Moore who raised £32.8m for the NHS. The centenarian became the nation’s favourite grandfather and suddenly the words ‘war veteran’ were everywhere. I’m sure we weren’t the only family who witnessed Captain Sir Tom’s dogged efforts and started to talk about what our own grandfathers and grandmothers had done in the war.

My own teenagers were fortunate in that their paternal grandmother, who died in 2014, was just a fortnight older than the Duke of Edinburgh. In effect, our family has skipped a generation, and through this relationship they were privileged to understand from a young age how her life was so different from their own.

The veteran politician Baroness Shirley Williams died on Monday aged 90.

They grew up knowing that ‘grandma’ had not always been a quiet elderly lady who sat quietly in her armchair reading the newspaper. When she was 18, she signed up to the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) and was sent to an airfield near Redcar from her family home in a rural village in Bedfordshire. We have a treasured photograph of Marjorie with her brother, Arthur, both of them looking jaunty and smart in their service uniforms.

Before the end of the war, Arthur was dead, killed in France at the age of 21. As the only brother in a family of girls, his death devastated his sisters and mother. When we face personal sadness now, we often talk about the resilience and fortitude which Jack and Lizzie’s grandmother needed to keep going through those darkest of days. I tell them to dig deep and consider what their grandmother had to face and how she dealt with life and death.

I was reminded of this when I read that the Queen had returned to Royal duties just four days after the death of her husband, hosting a ceremony as Earl Peel, the most senior member of her household, retired from his post.

Whilst there is no doubt that she and her family are grieving, she will not let others down. In the past, this unbending devotion to duty might have been seen as a weakness almost. Those criticisms seem unfounded now.

Second World War veteran Captain Sir Tom Moore, who became a national icon during the first lockdown, died earlier this year at the age of 100.

So many people, especially those working for the NHS, have had to put service first. And countless others have found it in themselves to go over and above what they thought were their capabilities, volunteering to deliver food, supplies and medicines and pitch in to help the UK vaccine roll-out become the envy of the world.

As we emerge from the difficulties of this pandemic year, we have all learned that resilience and fortitude matters above all. We might not deserve these venerable heroes, but we certain need them more than ever.

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