Bloodshed and horror…all for a few yards.
A week ago I blogged about the Battle of the Somme and wrote an article for the Herald newspaper. It was a great privilege to offer comment in a national newspaper on this important commemoration. My message was one of thanks, respect and remembrance to those who gave their lives that day; thanks to those who keep their memory alive and a reminder of how our daily actions can slide into catastrophic consequences if we fail to learn the lessons of the past. Fast forward two weeks and how much has changed- how much ground have we gained?
At this point in time 100 years ago, the Allied gains on the Western Front were minimal to the say the last. The only real breakthrough of the battle saw the 36th Ulster Regiment break through enemy lines however have to return back again that evening as communication lines could not be established to alert commanders of the breakthrough and thus exploit the attack. And so, the war returned to the attrition warfare that now epitomised “The Great War.” Last weekend saw the 100th anniversary of the South African attack on Delville Wood (known to many of them as Devil’s Wood) and the Welsh attack on Mametz Wood. Barring commemorations in those nations, talk of the Somme and the lessons from it has come to as sudden a halt as the Allied advances.
That said the activities arranged to commemorate the Somme deserve signigicant praise and those who arranged them require credit for a wonderful effort and humbling service. The Fife school students who made art representations of soldiers silhettoes in the sand, those who arranged and took part in the #wearehere moving and powerful re-enactment activity and those who arranged and took part in indivuals and group pilgramages to the Somme region over the past period and commemoration events across the Commonwealth.
Since then two other violent catastrophes have hit the world- one in Nice and one in Dallas, Texas- the city I am to visit next week. The Dallas attack, a revenge assault on innocent police officers keeping safety and order at an innocent march following the death of two young Americans. The lessons I mentioned in the newspaper article and blog post appear not to have been learned. The cycle of violence and hate continues.
The photo above shows me tour guiding on the Somme with school children. Many of the Great War veterans returned there to work on the battlefield and in particular on the Commonwealth War Graves. Their return to civilian life in ‘Blighty’ was simply too difficult. Moreover, the return to war almost 20 years later must have been difficult for those who could tell you only too well what war and conflict brought to civilisation. Their only care as they tended Commonwealth War Graves was continuing the support the alliances they had formed- not to nation states but to fellow man before they stepped “over the top.”
The last week also marked the 240th Independence Day celebrations for the United States. That day also saw the 70th Anniversary of the Special relationship. Across the world peace has been founded on the quality of relationships, the solidarity of alliances and the motivation to seek cooperation.
I ended my Somme reflection article in the Herald by asking not “Lest we forget” but, can we start to remember? I always recall one of my mentors in my early teaching career reinforcing, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always had.”
And so I reflect, are we any further forward two weeks on? My guess is that we have travelled only a few yards….. even if that.