Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday and Tuesday will mark 90 years since the end of the First World War, the war in which Britain suffered its worst ever casualties (significantly worse than the Second World War).

Remarkably there are still a tiny band of surviving veterans from the First World War and I understand three were at the march past at the Cenotaph in London today.

The fields of northern France and Belgium are scattered with British cemeteries and these always make moving places to visit. Some are even visible from the speeding Eurostar train between London and Paris. I once visited the forests around Verdun in France and found the rusting shell of a hand grenade from the First World War. That physical link made the war all seem very real. I wondered if anyone had been killed or injured by the hand grenade that I held in my hand.

In that war the British were also in action in Turkey which was an ally of Germany. The plan was to attack a German ally to the south and end the stalemate to the north in Europe. The British forces together with very significant numbers of Australian and New Zealander forces landed on the end of the Gallipoli penninsular.

The history of the Gallipoli landings is the subject of countless books and a number of films. Put simply, it was a military diaster for the British and their allies. In 9 months of occupation the allies lost over 40,000 men with with 100,000 injured. The never gained significant ground and were eventually forced to withdraw. The military strength of the Turks was a great surprise to the British and their commander Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) went onto lead his nation a few years later. The British First Lord of the Admirality, one Winston Churchill, ended up being demoted for the disaster. History went on to show that he did also have some strengths !

We visited Gallipoli two years ago and it is beautiful, haunting strip of land overlooking the Dardenelles. Below is a photo we took at Helles Point, the initial site for the allied landings. A British memorial and cemetery can be found there today.

Helles Point Gallipoli, Turkey

For anyone interested in the Gallipoli campaign, a 2005 film based on the letters of soldiers from all sides is strongly recommended. The trailer below gives a flavour although do not be put off by the Hollywood tones. The film is better and more subtle than the trailer suggests. (There are several films with the title Gallipoli but the one I am recommending was made in 2005 and is factually based).

Today with the British and others still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and the commitment of further forces to the latter being an overlooked aspect of the Obama manifesto (overlooked at least for the most "luvvie" of his supporters. I doubt Oprah , Dimbleby et al will be volunteering for the front line !), it seems sadly certain that we will will have more troops to remember next year.

We remember all those who have died for our freedoms.

The bodies of 5 British soldiers preparing to return home from Afghanistan in June this year having paid the highest price. (photo from Daily Telegraph website)

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