With the sad but inevitable news that Claude Choules, the last surviving veteran from WW1 passed away earlier this week, I guess the press will be full of articles about their lives, television programmes dedicated to their memory and a renewed interest, for a while, in the “Great War”.
That we remember those who fought and died, or who survived is of course only right and proper but as I read about Claude Choules passing I did start to wonder if we aren’t in danger of losing those from World War II before we know it.
If you think back over the last 5 or 6 years, the last dozen or so surviving Tommie’s from WW1 had almost reached celebrity status… Men such as Harry Patch and Henry Allingham were inundated with historians, television crews, radio pundits etc. all wanting to squeeze every last drop of memory out of them before it was too late. Numerous books and documentaries detailed their stories and revelled in the horrors that they had witnessed firsthand.
I wonder though, as we have read with awe, and listened intently to the stories of these undoubtedly brave and remarkable men, have we failed to notice that those soldiers who fought in WW2 are also leaving us. Another brave and heroic generation are slowly fading away right in front of us and it will not be long before we repeat the circus act that has surrounded the last WW1 soldiers in recent years.
I wonder how many veterans of Dunkirk are left? And what about El Alamain? River Plate? Tobruk? How many people are left that can actually tell us firsthand what it was like at Monte Cassino, or trying to cross the Rhine in Operation Market Garden.
The simple fact is that World War II ended 66 years ago and so any survivor from that conflict must now be in their 80s. Of course, they could go on for another 20 even 30 years but sadly many of them won’t and as they do leave us so their story will fade too. That’s part of the cycle of life of course, their passing really is inevitable, but as they become fewer and fewer so I am struck again by the social responsibility we all have to ensure they memories, stories and experiences live on, because one day there just won’t be any one left—after that there really is no going back.
So, if you know someone in your family who fought in WW2, then see if you can talk to them about it, do some research on where they fought and what they experienced. It is likely they have artefacts such as letters or medals or uniform that will bring these stories to life. Very soon this will all we will have left of these heroes, so let us all ensure we do our bit to keep the memories and stories alive. We owe it to our kids and future generations.