We who have missed our wars, being either too young or too old to fight, are often perplexed by the heroism of those who died.
I was two when WW2 ended and still too young for Korea and Suez. In Britain, Harold Wilson kept us out of Viet Nam and by the time of the Falklands we had a professional army that did not require aging amateurs. The First Gulf War would have been my children's war, but my oldest were still at University and my youngest still at school. I have a nephew who was there and close to a friendly fire incident where American bombers demonstrated their effectiveness but not their efficiency.
My youngest toyed with a career in the air force, but eventually ended up designing racing cars instead. Had he joined he would now be in Iraq or Afghanistan.
My father was deferred military service because of TB, but my grandfather was in the trenches in world war one, surviving, no doubt, by the luck of having charge of the horses. My wife had an uncle who was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain, but he too survived.
As a family, therefore, we have escaped the warmongering of the twentieth century.
I heard on a news item this morning that a large proportion of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were victims of friendly fire, road accidents or logistic errors, like the soldier killed by a roadside bomb when the defence against it, radio-jamming equipment, had been delivered to his base but not fitted to the vehicle because someone had forgotten to sign the requisite chitty.
Watching an old movie on TV last night, 'D-Day, 6th of June', it was galling to see the Richard Todd character, having survived the battle with only the sort of scratch that war heroes dismiss with heaps of aplomb and modesty, carelessly step on a landmine so as to leave the beautiful Dana Wynter for Robert Taylor.
I suppose things like happen in the fog of war, but were I the parent of a soldier who had put his life on the line to preserve our land, our liberty, our lives, and then found that he had died because someone left the handbrake off, or left early for lunch, of hadn't memorized the call sign or for some other trivial error I should be dismayed. Our soldiers deserve more.
This morning watching the great and the good leaving their wreathes around the Cenotaph in London, I was moved to write this poem.
Poppies on every coat,
Wreathes of regret;
Was it for this they wrote,
"Lest we forget"?
Ploughshares and pruning hooks,
Wolves with the lamb;
Splendid the pageant looks;
All just a sham?
Reverent with pomp and show,
The dead they adore,
Then as they bend quite low,
Plan the next war.