When, some time ago, plans to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War were announced, I feared that we would be subjected to a year of jingoism and saccharine sentimentality. How wrong I was!
I have been so impressed, and deeply moved, by television dramas, documentaries and news coverage not only of the events of the First World War but of the Second World War and subsequent wars. STV’s recent dramatisation of James Runcie’s Grantchester books has been particularly insightful, with the main role of Sidney Chambers played hauntingly by James Norton.
The series shows how so many ex-soldiers suffered what we now call post-traumatic stress because of the things they had seen and had been obliged to do, and it reminded me of, and explained why, sometimes the adult men in my family – Scottish, French and Dutch – could sometimes seem distant. I wish now that, armed with this knowledge, I could revisit my childhood and understand my parents, aunts and uncles, who simply could not explain to us, or anyone at home, the horrors of the war they had survived: but, of course, I can’t.
What I can do, however, is give a lot more respect to the young men and women who, like the partners of two of my nieces, are in the present armed forces. This year of commemoration has taught me a lot.
Few seem to realise that the celebration of the Armistice at the 11th hour was an accident of time zones.
The Armistice was agreed for 12 noon Western European time on 11 November, 1918. But this was 11am in the UK.
I like silence. It is transformative. The two-minute silence for Armistice becomes more treasured with age.