God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine —
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
The above is the first stanza of a poem by Rudyard Kipling, and it was composed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, in 1897. The phrase ‘Lest we forget’ is used in reference to soldiers and war, to always remind us that all soldiers in all wars have fought for our freedom, for the life we have today.
My own war training
I have mentioned before that I voluntarily signed up for military service and was a soldier in South Africa for 5 years before I immigrated to Europe. Now back then South Africa wasn’t in war with any country anymore — the border war had ended in the year after I signed up — but I still had to do my training to be ready to be sent out if any conflict would arise. I learned how to shoot, and since I was in the medical corps, my medical training was just as important as knowing how to defend myself and my country. The training was done over and over again, because we were on call 24/7 and always had to be ready.
I have never been sent out to the battlefields, and in hindsight I am grateful for that, but I still remember how ‘fighting fit’ I was back then, ready to do my duty.
Lest we forget in family tree
Something I have also mentioned is being busy with my paternal family tree, and I was surprised when I came across two men who have died in Italy. Both of them were killed in the Second World War. The first was 29 years old when he died, a lieutenant in the South African Air Force. He died on 12 October 1944, and is buried in the Milan War Cemetery. The second was only 23 years old, a private in the S.A. Forces when he died on 16 April 1945, and he is buried in the Castiglione South African Cemetery.
In front of me I had the names of their parents. I had their birth dates, and the places where they were born — places I know; places I had been to. My thoughts wandered… these young men were sent out to fight thousands of kilometers away from home. They died in battle, and were buried in Europe, not in their home country. How terribly hard it must have been for their parents not to be able to bury their sons? I feel myself choke up when this thought crosses my mind.
Lest we forget!
War museum Overloon
When I grew up in South Africa, history lessons dealt with the First and Second World Wars, but not in the same in-depth way that the children in Europe learned about it. We learned more about the Boer Wars, as that was what was important for the South African history.
The year after I immigrated to the Netherlands, we visited the war museum in Overloon. This was the first time I was confronted with the horrors of the Second World War, the mass killings. We walked into a underground bunker, the long walls covered in old photos from the war time. It showed mass graves with dozens of bodies, it showed the ‘showers’, it showed so many awful things. Everyone in that bunker was quieted by the awful images, with only the occasional respectful whisper disturbing the silence.
I never forgot what I saw there. Will never forget it. No one should forget the horrors of war, and I truly believe everyone should visit a war museum at least once. It’s no replacement for having lived the horrors of war, but it gives us a bit of understanding what our ancestors went through; how they fought for our freedom.
Every year on 4 May in the Netherlands the Remembrance of the Dead is held, and officially this is commemorating the Dutch victims of wars since the beginning of the Second World War. Every year on 4 May, we watch the live coverage, and are quiet for 2 minutes and every year on 4 May when I hear the sounds of the buggle call, Tattoo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattoo_(bugle_call)), my throat tightens.
Lest we forget!
Lest we forget!
War is ugly. Every war is ugly. My mind goes to the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ where the mother has already lost three of her sons, and everything is done to save Private First Class James Francis Ryan (played by Matt Damon), so she at least doesn’t lose this last son to the war too.
How many parents in wartime had lost all their sons? And maybe daughters too? How many wives had not seen their husbands return from war? Children who had never gotten to know their fathers? How many families had been and still are torn apart because of war? My heart breaks when I think of this, and every time I see a movie or read a book that deals with war and the emotions around it, tears choke me up.
We should never forget. Even if you don’t feel that someone had fought in a war and had died for you, try to imagine yourself in the shoes of the parents, the partners, the children, or any other close family members. I know I will never forget and being an empath, I can all too easily imagine the pain and sorrow of the people who stayed behind.
No matter where you are in the world, on those days of remembrance, please take a minute or two to be quiet, to be thankful that someone fought and died so you can live in relative peace.
Lest we forget!
© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay