On Remembrance Sunday 2013, Veterans For Peace UK walked to The Cenotaph under the banner ‘Never Again’. The message on the back of our tops read “War is Organised Murder” which is a quote from Harry Patch, the last survivor of The Western Front who he died in 2009. Among the 18 veterans who attended were men who had served in World War 2, SE Asia, Northern Ireland, Dhofar, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq. We were followed by around 80 supporters.
The reception from bystanders was mostly positive. As we neared The Cenotaph we were stopped by the police. A negotiation between the police and Ben Griffin ended with the police agreeing to allow the veterans and their bugler approach The Cenotaph. The tension started to build as we waited for The Salvation Arm to finish their ceremony.
As we stood facing The Cenotaph D-Day veteran Jim Radford sang ‘1916’. Afghanistan veteran John Boulton then read ‘Suicide in the Trenches’ by Siegfried Sassoon. A wreath of white & red poppies was then laid by Northern Ireland veteran John Bourton. The Last Post was played, after which there was a minute of silence during which we tried to remember all victims of war.
It was a sombre and moving event which took courage to participate in.
16 years old when I went to the war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes,
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Chasing my days down to zero,
And I marched and I fought and I bled and I died,
And I never did get any older,
But I knew at the time that a year in the line,
Is a long enough life for a soldier,
We all volunteered, and we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history’s pages,
And we brawled and we fought and we whored ’til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun, we were food for the gun,
And that’s what you are when you’re soldiers,
I heard my friend cry, and he sank to his knees,
Coughing blood as he screamed for his mother,
And I fell by his side, and that’s how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other,
And I lay in the mud and the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder,
And I called for my mother and she never came,
Though it wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t to blame,
The day not half over and ten thousand slain,
And now there’s nobody remembers our names,
And that’s how it is for a soldier.
Written in 1990 by Lemmy Kilmister
Suicide in the Trenches
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
Written in 1918 by Siegfried Sassoon
All pictures © Guy Smallman