Since we moved to the UK, we have been impressed with the amount of Remembrance here. Not just on November 11, but year round. The Battle of Britain is commemorated every year at Duxford Airbase in Cambridgeshire where many of the planes that fought in that battle were based; Cosford Airbase in Shropshire also does commemorative airshows. The last flight of the Vulcan was accompanied by the last two flying Lancasters, one of them from Canada, at Waddington Airbase in Lincolnshire. All over the country, there are recreations and commemorations of both wars, but one of our favourites is the Victory Show at Cosby here in Leicestershire, held every year in September.
The first year we went, we were struck at the numbers of people in period clothing, hairstyles and uniforms. This was not limited to the older generations, many of whom remember the war years; the younger ones, those that you might be forgiven for thinking wouldn’t remember, much as the youth of North America do not remember, are keen participants. The Friday night is always a 1940s themed dinner dance in a marquee on a farmer’s field by the reconstruction grounds. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, people come from miles around to take part and observe. I do not exaggerate when I say that by noon, the queue to get into the parking area is miles long and many of the participants camp on site. This is a national passtime. The Brits have not forgotten.
Once in, there are vendors selling period clothing, army gear, weapons, paintings. There are planes and models, and the beer tent plays period music for people to dance to. The army encampment (and encampment it is) includes the Brits, Germans and Americans. The one sore point for this Canuck is that the Canadians are never remembered for having been there. There are no Canadian units, uniforms, nothing. I’ve been told that vintage Canadian uniforms are difficult to come by here … this could well be true. A quick Google search came up with lean pickings. Still, it irks that our soldiers might as well not have been there for all that they are ever mentioned at these events. This year, there was an exception. After six years of attending, we finally met someone wearing the Canadian uniform. It was luck, he told us. It fit him when none of the others did and he had come to realise that this uniform made him unique. He also said that we were not the only Canadians to want to shake his hand upon seeing him in the Canadian uniform at a reconstruction event!
This event has both a field encampment and trenches within a forested area, which can be quite eerie depending on the weather. Having seen the trenched woodland near Ypres in 2017, my imagination fills in a lot of gaps.
Truth be told, I am uncertain which battle they recreate each year, but my sweetheart thinks it may be the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, which took place between September and December of 1944, and involved the Germans and Americans. I did contact the Victory Show website to find out, but have yet to hear back from them. It would make sense if this were the case, as the battle at Cosby usually involves German and American soldiers. Still, I won’t try to provide a blow-by-blow description of the battle itself, but will allow the photographs to tell the story for the most part. In many ways, despite the audience on both sides, the battle recreation has elements of reality. And the odd time, an air of unreality as you realise how very much the re-enactors are enjoying themselves.
It’s easy to imagine, as you watch the paratroopers drop from the American C47 as it flies overhead, watch bombs explode in the field, watch the Americans appear in their jeeps and tanks, watch the Germans load and aim their guns, with German officers shouting orders, and then watch the Germans in their trenches being killed, then watch those left alive surrendering to the Americans. It’s easy to imagine what it must have been like in those battles, how it must have left the lands on which they occurred. Many of those lands have still not fully recovered from the ravages of two world wars in less than 35 years.
It’s been 73 years since WWII ended, 100 years since WWI ended at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month. They actively remember here. There are reminders all over the UK, all over Europe. How could they forget? The youngest generations have a little more difficulty. A man in Kent has recreated the trenches and put together a bit of living history for children to visit on school trips. He has veterans talking to them, people reading the stories of those who fought in both wars.
Because we must remember. It is one thing to wish for peace, but wishes do not, sadly, create peace. Humanity has proved time and again that peace is a hard won thing, won through battle and determination. In North America, we like to think we live in peaceful times, but we do not. All you have to do is look at: Lebanon, Nigeria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, Brazil, North Korea, Costa Rica, South Sudan, the Congo, Rwanda, Zaire, Darfur, Somalia, Boko Haram, Al Qaida, ISIL, the Taliban, Turkey against the Kurds.
It’s too easy to say that these are all far away and ask what they have to do with us, isn’t it. Yet, these conflicts impact us in our comfortable and secure homes. Our governments provide arms and send soldiers to help. Then, due to pressure from voters, they pull their support, leaving the job undone. Leaving death, disease, and strife. Peace Keeping no longer exists in the way that it did in the 20th century. Peace Keeping troops are fired on, bombed, killed and are not allowed to fire back to defend themselves. The UN Security Council time and again, refuses to act when it should. The UN, that was born of war; born of the war that is recreated on farmers’ fields all over Britain; born of the war that left its mark all over Europe and one little piece of the United States; born of the war that saw 10% of Canada’s population involved in fighting in some way, shape or form; born of the war that shaped our world and through attempts to heal the damage, its current conflicts.
We must remember. To us, they threw the torch. We must hold it high and we must not break faith with those who died. Yet, I fear we already have, for there are those, now, who feel that in remembering we glorify war. Or that in wearing the poppy, we somehow are not honouring all who fought, but only the English speaking white people – a concern voiced by young students at Cambridge University this year. Where they got that idea, I do not know.
Clearly, we have not taught the youngest generations that it is not to glorify war that we remember, but to be grateful for the sacrifice made, be humble for the sacrifice made, and try to make sure we know why it must not happen again.
I will be at the Remembrance Sunday ceremonies at the Cenotaph in London this weekend with my sweetheart. As we commemorate the 100 years, this Sunday, since the end of World War One, the irony of calling it the war to end all wars will be with me. And to them, with my mind, my heart and my soul, I will give my thanks.