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Armistice Day

Remembrance Day. A day which I take to remember Private J. Ireland. One of the many men who gave his life for us during The Great War. I’m not taking anything away from any other wars and what soldiers past and present have done for us, but a school trip I went on when I was only 14 changed my life and my perception of just how much soldiers selflessly sacrifice for us.

The trip was to the famous battlefields of the First World War in Belgium and France. On our first day we visited what to anyone could look like a huge lake. It was beautiful, with water lilies growing on top and willow trees surrounding it. We stood admiring the scenic view we had for a good few minutes. Until suddenly our tour guide told us that this was actually a mass grave, which had filled up with rain water. This grave was full of British Soldiers who had been killed in an explosion but their bodies could not be recovered, and they were simply left there, unidentified. Their families did not and would not ever know where they were and how they were killed.

That day also saw us visit a preserved stretch of the trenches. I can’t describe how awful they were. We were told to shut our eyes and imagine we were about to “go over the top”. My mind drifted instantly to my family and friends. The men fighting knew that running in to no man’s land was simply a death sentence. They wouldn’t come back. I began to think of how scared the men would have been, how alone they were in those moments and how even though they knew they were about to die, they couldn’t say goodbye to the people they loved. I opened my eyes and looked around me. Not only did they have to give up their lives for our country, but they had to spend their last moments in these disgusting trenches, in which the conditions had been so bad, 100 years later we weren’t allowed to touch the sides in case we got ill. And at one point, a rat ran across one of my peers’ feet. Disgusted we all demanded we leave.

The next day we all took a walk, a way that took us 6 minutes to complete, but took the soldiers 6 months to make the same progress. Proving to us just how long and drawn out the war really had been. But as we approached the end of the walk we could see a huge wall. And on the other side of that wall we found the World’s largest British military cemetery. I couldn’t believe how many soldiers there was. And I imagined them all, row by row, standing to attention in death. All of us decided this was a moment to be alone, and we all went our separate ways and looked at the graves and their markings. Some simply said “Unknown soldier… known unto God.” Another I read had the words “What earth has lost, heaven has gained.” Obviously written by a family which hadn’t just lost a member, but a son, a father, a husband, a person. Not only was there row upon row of graves, but on the huge wall which I had seen there were lists upon lists of men’s names. All of which had no known grave. It broke my heart that they had fallen for us, yet we couldn’t give them the dignity of a grave. Something which upon death, most of us would expect. I was devastated.

The group was dropped off at another graveyard. But at the corner of this graveyard was a stone marked with “In Flanders Fields”. This marked the exact spot that the famous war poem was written. We were read the poem and we looked out to the fields where pools of poppies had been mistaken for pools of blood. I realised that where I was standing was a hotspot of history. I imagined what this scene would have looked like 90 years prior to the group visiting. I felt shivers down my spine as I realised that I could never comprehend what had happened here.

We then drove past a graveyard, but the bus stopped. We weren’t to get out; we were simply to look at two of the graves, which were touching. We noticed that the two graves had the same surname on them. These were the graves of twin brothers who had died in the war, side by side, holding hands. Their bodies could not be separated and so they were buried together, just as they had been born together.

The Saturday morning came and I don’t think anyone who was on the trip knew what that day would mean to us. We were taken to what seemed like just another British Military Cemetery, and told to stand behind a grave. Every time the tour guide went to this grave, he would get people to stand behind different graves, making sure that every grave, at one point would have someone standing behind it. Then we all noticed something different. Most of these graves didn’t have a name. This was a graveyard, where the most unknown soldiers were buried. 84% of the men there were unknown. I stood behind a grave with a name on it. “Private J. Ireland” We were told to shut our eyes, imagine what the man lying below us looked like, his personality, his family. We were giving him a life which he had never lived. We all placed a poppy on our soldier’s grave, were told to gather our thoughts and make our way back to the bus. The trip back to our hotel was silent.

This will be the first Armistice Day without any surviving veterans of the First World War, but that just gives us more of a reason to keep remembering soldiers who have given their lives for us, and also think of the brave men and women still fighting for our country. That trip made me realise that these men  and women sacrifice so much just for our safety and well-being. And remembering them on days like today is only a minute piece of the respect they deserve.

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2 Responses

  1. Considering what is being talked about it seems a bit stupid to say brilliant but that was a brilliant read. I would like to go there some day, to see for my own eyes the destruction that the wars have done. Lest We Forget.

  2. You can really tell that this meant so much to you. The way you’ve written it has so much emotion in it; so much so that it made me well up in the middle of the jack kilby. Brilliant piece of writing.

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