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Open Features: Every One Is A Mother’s Son Or Daughter

...soldiers carried the coffin into church on their shoulders and the family followed in deep grief. He was just nineteen years old. His life had barely begun.
The scene in our village has been repeated in towns and villages throughout the nation. We are not used to it. Since World War II ended there have been other wars but in the last few years the evidence of the latest conflicts has been coming home in body bags. ..

As another British victim of warfare returns home in a coffin, Mary Pilfold-Allan calls on politicians to search their consciences and speak the truth about our reasons for being at war.

There has been a military funeral in the village. The High Street was lined with people paying their respects; soldiers carried the coffin into church on their shoulders and the family followed in deep grief. He was just nineteen years old. His life had barely begun.

The scene in our village has been repeated in towns and villages throughout the nation. We are not used to it. Since World War II ended there have been other wars but in the last few years the evidence of the latest conflicts has been coming home in body bags.

Wootton Bassett has been on the front line for repatriation. The RAF planes fly in to the nearby base and the hearses crawl through the town with the coffins draped in the Union Jack. Every coffin contains somebody’s son or daughter and each father and mother is forced to deal with the reality of his or her loss in their own way. Their lives will never be the same again.

Should we take the pragmatic view and say, if someone joins up they know what could be the consequence? What might happen? Or, in this day and age, could we be forgiven for thinking that we had outgrown the basic instinct to settle differences with a fight? Isn’t it time we really did look to reason and compromise for a solution?

As I write this, Afghanistan continues to claim lives, Iraq is not at peace and even closer to home, the Irish question keeps arising. There is any number of other problems throughout the world. Have we learnt nothing from the last century when two world wars claimed so many sons and daughters?

Driving through much of northern France is a stark reminder of lives lost. There the big military cemeteries, graves lined up with precision, white and gleaning, row upon row, are poignant by the sheer numbers of those commemorated. And then there are the simple crosses that you come see in the fields, usually clustered in a corner, by a hedge, near a wayside. They too are stark reminders that fighting was and is, an awful business, a waste of life.

In my own lifetime this nation has been involved in Korea, Malaya, Suez, the Falklands, the Gulf War and Iraq – and I have probably left out others. Each time the politicians talk the talk, justify their decisions and move on as if that’s all there is to it. Sadly we are witnessing it yet again in the Chilcot Enquiry. Such resolve that the reasons were just, such downright indignation that they might have made a mistake.

I can still remember the first attack in the Gulf War. We watched mesmerised as missiles whizzed down on Baghdad. My son turned to me and said: “Mum, will I have to go?” My heart felt like stone in my chest. The thought was unbearable.

Just how many mothers have felt the same way when their child has come and told them, “Mum, I want to join up”? We hope and pray they will be safe, we may even make a pact with God to keep them safe, but the thought that they may not be safe will be ever present.

Tucked away on a hill above the estuary of the river Alde lies the church of St Botolph. It is surrounded by a peaceful churchyard in which, at this time of the year, snowdrops nod their heads in the breeze coming in from the sea. It’s a peaceful place, set away from the village with only gulls calling on the winter wind to break the silence. The church is uncomplicated, not elaborate in any shape or form. Inside, a broken shaft of a Saxon cross reminds the curious that this was once a place venerated by our ancestors. At rest, in that simple place is the grave of a soldier who came back to his country for his eternal sleep after the Great War, the war that was intended to end all wars. He was a Royal Fusilier.

Will the soldier from our village have his regiment on his headstone and will it compensate for all those lost years? The years of being married, of watching his children grow up, of enjoying family life in all its wider context and comforting his parents in their old age?

When our political leaders are giving evidence in this latest inquiry, I sincerely hope they will search their consciences and have the will to speak the truth. They owe it to the fallen and to those bowed down with grief.

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