The speech a royal personage could have given from under the Menin Gate to commemorate the opening of the battle of Passchendaele and which just might have put a dent in my otherwise cast iron Republicanism…
“We are gathered here to honour and express our deepest respect for those citizen soldiers of the United Kingdom and her allies who did not return but who lay buried here in the Ypres Salient.
They do not need a commemoration performed by professional actors and us royals backed by ranks of sombre faces competing for attention with silly hats. In the words of the last Tommy, Harry Patch, such events are “show business and nothing else.”
Rather is it not enough to speak the words of soldier-poet Wilfred Owen? …
DULCE ET DECORUM EST PROPATRIA MORI1
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
(1). “It is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country.”!!!!!!!
This is what the boys really experienced yet THEY HELD THE LINE.
But do we ever ask what they were doing here? Honouring a treaty obligation to defend Belgium? Certainly.
On the other hand, had we British not acquired the biggest Empire the world has ever seen with the morality of the common thief… “He’s got it. I want it!” Then were not the Germans in trying to wrest it from us by applying the same standards of morality, have to be stopped?
And now, having praised those who did not come back, what of those who did?
Our nation had promised them "Homes fit for Heroes" but many returned to the same urban and rural slums they had left to defend King and Empire; the same poverty; the same unemployment; the same exploitation; the same lack of security for widows and orphans, the old, the sick and the lame; the same lack of education and the same lack of medical care?
Should we not also remember here those who returned shell-shocked with a multitude of psychological problems, the disfigured, the maimed and the blind?
Surely the greatest honour we can bestow on this lost generation is to recognise that these deficiencies and gross inequalities still lay at the heart of our society and to put them right even now?
Whether in peace or war, with whom do you stand… with such Lions of your class or those donkeys of mine, born, it is claimed, to lead you?