I spent seven years in the Royal Navy, but never had to experience the terror of war. However, most people who have spent some time in the military will have an understanding and sympathy for those who did fight. It is not soldiers or their Generals and Admirals that start or cause wars … that would be politicians and other leaders of nations. Remembrance Day is to remember the sacrifices of those who fought, and I like to think that we live in a far better world because of what our fathers and grandfathers did.
My dad fought in the Second World War. He was a tank gunner who joined up in 1939 at the age of 19. My dad wasn’t killed (or I would not be writing this) but he represents a generation whose lives were changed by war.
Only those who have done it can know what it is like to go into battle … can you imagine what it might be like to know you could be killed at any moment? My dad was in a tin can called a Sherman tank which was severely limited in the armor it carried … and a direct hit, even on its best armor could kill everyone inside with the shock. When they faced the German Panzers they were out matched in size, armor, range and gun size … imagine a middleweight wrestler taking on a Sumo wrestler!
He was trained for desert warfare, saw action in the Middle East and hot countries like Italy yet he was also sent to the jungles of Burma (today known as Myanmar) and my dad had opinions on that move! My dad didn’t give a lot of details about the war … he liked to tell the stories of when he and his buddies got into trouble, which apparently was not rare and resulted in a demotion or two! The following however is an indication of a part of my dad’s war, an excerpt I found about the history of the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars (the tank regiment my dad served in).
In 1942, the Regiment was sent to Burma where it covered the long retreat to India. Fierce fighting along the jungle tracks took a terrible toll, but the Regiment never failed to do all that was asked of it. and fought tooth and nail to save the Army. General Alexander said of the 7th Hussars – “Without them we should never have got the Army out of Burma ; no praise can be too high for them”.
My dad and I are not the only members of family with a military connection. My Uncle Davy was a boy sailor on the HMS Exeter in the Second World War. The Exeter was sunk in the Java Sea in 1942, and he was captured by Japanese forces and held as a prisoner until the war ended in 1945. We have all seen the movies about conditions in those camps and the stories I was told of his captivity were horrific … can you imagine the affect on that 17 year old boy?
My dad was young when he died, just 56 years old and my Uncle Davy was only 47 years old when he passed away. I can’t say they died young because of their war experiences but I can say their lives were changed by those experiences, and it would surprise me if their life expectancy were not affected. They both missed the formative years of their early careers, and certainly my dad did not get the chance to pursue the career he wanted. They both lost friends during the war, and the psychological scars that brought, and they both saw the absolute terror of battle … which has to change a person. Uncle Davy suffered terribly in that camp and spent many months recovering in an Australian hospital after the war, again I found a description of conditions at the camp he was held in Macassar. He was never the same.
Today we live in the elected democratic society of our choice, that we might not have enjoyed were it not for the sacrifices of many young people in two “great” wars. No sane person wants war, or suggests that war is anything but evil … but soldiers pay the price of political decisions, and it is soldiers that we have to thank and remember.
These are the reasons why I buy poppies and remember the soldiers, sailors and airmen together with their families who have all sacrificed … and they should never be forgotten.
Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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