WHEN Somerset soldier Harry Patch died, at the age of 101, in 2009, the last man to have fought in the trenches of the First World War was gone.
Even for the pensioners among us, the Great War is a story our grandparents told, but it has been brought to life over the past four years by various commemorative events. The centenary of the war, which started with the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914, was memorably marked by the installation Bloodswept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London in 2014. Since then communities around the UK have marked their own contributions in a huge variety of ways.
The centenary comes to an end on Sunday 11th November 2018, when the annual commemoration of Armistice Day will take on a different significance.
In our lives, there has never been a time when it has been more important to look back and try to learn from our mistakes, rather than blunder blindly into another international conflict, concentrating only on our own personal concerns and determinedly ignoring the relentlessly unfolding bigger picture.
Over the next few days, various events have been planned to mark the end of the Great War. Parades and memorial ceremonies will be held in towns across our region. Concert halls, arts centres and theatres will be filled with patriotic music and plays and film reminding us of the horrors of battle.
The total number of military and civilian casualties of the 1914-18 war was around 40 million. Twenty million died and as many were wounded. Ten million of those who died were civilians.
These are unimaginable numbers, even in a world where CGI armies can stretch to the edges of your wide screens, die and then pop up back to life.
It didn’t happen like that in Flanders’ fields.
We can’t “remember” any of those involved, in what is still called The Great War and was vigorously promoted at the time as “the war to end all wars”. We didn’t know them and our only personal links are family stories and treasured memorabilia.
What we can remember is that those millions of men, women and children, here in Britain, across mainland Europe and beyond, gave up their lives and their futures for a dream of world peace.
And if that is OUR dream now, we must be selflessly vigilant.