Remembering those who sacrificed their lives for us

August 1914:  British soldiers, newly arrived in France preparing to go to the lines.  (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
August 1914: British soldiers, newly arrived in France preparing to go to the lines. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

In 1914 war broke out across the world, the Great War, the war to end war. Sadly, H G Wells’ hopes were not fulfilled and scarcely more than two decades later, the world was thrust into war once again.

In fact, throughout the 20th century there were wars across the globe – some easy to remember, in Vietnam, Spain, the Falklands, the Balkan states; some less so, in Angola, Korea, African states.

Still today men and women around the world are fighting one another, state against state, culture against culture.

It seems Aldous Huxley was correct: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

But still we remember those who gave and continue to give their lives so we and future generations can enjoy freedom.

In the First World War more than 17 million people died and another 20 million or more injured; in the Second World War more than 60 million people died – about three per cent of the world’s population at that time. Since the end of that war, there have been some 250 major wars in which more than 50 million people have been killed.

Last year, and continuing this year, this country has been marking the start of the First World War. This year we have also marked important moments in the Second World War.

As well, we remember the horrors of the Holocaust, the terror of Kristallnacht – and our response to these dreadful events, taking in orphaned children, housing refugees and providing care.

And 70 years since the end of the Second World War, Europe is again faced with a tide of refugees, fleeing from war in the Middle East.

Former St Andrews University lecturer Dr Mark Imber carried out research into young people’s attitudes to remembrance events.

He discovered that ‘remembrance’ has shown a remarkable quality of not just ‘surviving’ as a complex national ritual for almost a century, but surviving almost unaltered.

All of the key elements associated with November 11 that were established in 1919 have remained almost unaltered ever since.

Working with a small group of late-teenagers, Dr Imber found very high levels of young people’s support and identification with traditional remembrance practices.

He said: “Even the small minority of pacifist/anti-Iraq war comments recognised that ‘remembrance’ itself transcends support for any particular conflict. Some argued it was precisely because war deaths in unpopular causes were more tragic than good causes that remembering and learning was more important.”

For more than a century governments have continued to support the country’s acts of remembrance.

Keith Brown, the Scottish Government’s veterans secretary, said: “Each November offers us the opportunity to pause and bring people together from across our society to learn about our shared history and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

“As the last links to past conflicts pass further into history, it is vital that we continue to recognise the significant and broad social and civic impact these conflicts had, and continue to have, on our nation.”

Mr Brown, himself a former Royal Marine who saw active service in the Falklands War, continued: “This coming Sunday, Scotland will pause in memory of those who gave their lives in the service of their country. As a nation we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the men and women who serve their country during times of conflict and in peacetime.

“Remembrance is at the forefront of our national consciousness, never more so than now that we have reached the centenary of the First World War and the appalling loss of life it saw, devastating communities all over Scotland and in so many other nations.”

Local government also understands the importance of remembrance.

David O’Neill, COSLA president, said: “There can be no doubt about the enormous debt all of us owe those who fought to defend our rights and freedoms which enables us to live the lives we do today.

“The death and injury toll was absolutely horrific, and it is unimaginable what these brave young men and women encountered.

“It is absolutely right that we always remember them and pay tribute to them for the sacrifices they made.”