Lest we forget the heroes of yesterday

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At the weekend Britain did what it does best – it staged a public display of commemoration full of pomp and ceremony – arguably one of the very last of its kind.

Naturally, London led the way on this particular occasion – the 70th anniversary of VJ Day, the day which brought the horrors of the Second World War to an end.

As one would expect for such a shindig there was the Queen, supported by her husband as well as her heir Prince Charles, not to mention thousands of onlookers who were treated to an impressive display by members of the Armed Services.

Of course the real VIPs for the day where the ever dwindling band of WW2 veterans fit enough to make the journey to The Smoke.

Rather than a celebration of war, occasions such as those we 
witnessed a few days ago are an opportunity to remember the sacrifices made by those who served during such conflicts. This is a fundamental lesson which has been taught to schoolchildren up and down the country for generations but I fear that these stories lose some of their resonance when the main players are no longer here.

Historians, archive footage of propaganda films and textbooks can tell us an awful lot but, in my experience, a story truly comes to life when the author is the person telling it. The men and women who lived through the grim reality of the Second World War, be it on the beaches of Northern France, in bombed-out cities or in prison camps, are the only ones who can tell today’s generations what war felt and smelled like.

The next landmark VE and VJ anniversaries will be the 80th and it is inconceivable that there will be more than a handful of veterans alive then to lay their wreaths and salute their comrades. Once that generation dies out, we will lose an invaluable insight into a world that very few of us can comprehend as no amount of documentary evidence can make up for a living witness.

As a teenager I would do anything to avoid war stories but now I actively seek them out from my 94-year-old grandfather as I recognise that the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity will not last forever.

Yes, there have been conflicts since, but it is highly unlikely that we will be commemorating the Iraq wars in 80 years’ time.

From an early age we are told to never forget but this will be made more difficult once the heroes of yesterday cease to exist.