On this day, the 90th aniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, my wife has posted a very touching and true piece ( Ghandi’s Steakhouse – In Flanders Fields) about the battle and war itself so I won’t re[at those thoughts here but add my own feelings on this day.
In the piece she mentions my uncle, Donald Ridley. Donald like my father and all of my uncles went in their time down to sign up and fight in the second world war. My father and my Uncle Tom joined the air force while Donald was accepted into the army. As you may read in Ghandi’s Steakhouse, Donald went to France but never came back, having been killed and subsequently buried at Bayeaux. Both my father and Tom survived the war but never talked much about how Uncle Donald died except to say he died “over seas”. During the years of my youth (before internet search engines) I new very little of my Uncle Donald and so imagined him dying gloriously in battle fighting a great evil so we could all remain free. He was my mysterious and heroic Uncle, I did not even have a picture of him, knew almost nothing about him, his short life or how he died.
Now many years later, older, some would say wiser certainly more skilled in many ways I have been able to find out much more about my Uncle Donald than I had known when I was my sons’ age or even earlier. I know when he left High School to join up, I know when he was in Aldershot and I know when he shipped of to France. Donald is still and always will be a hero to me but the fact that he died in war, in a battle will also always be a tragedy to me. That battle so long ago robbed me of any chance to know my uncle, enjoy his company, his knowledge and his experiences just as it has for many millions of people who were also touched by that great and terrible war.
Reading the stories about Vimy Ridge, the battle and the conditions under which our soldiers labored are at once frightening, absolutely horrifying and inspiring. Our soldiers kept to their duties and triumphed in the face of unfathonable losses, just think a moment about the figures, 3600 dead, 18000 wounded! All of them, every one a son, an uncle, a father someone like my Uncle Donald, gone away to war never to return. Every soldier in that battle and in every battle is a hero participating in the most senseless and horrific occupation we can devise.
Each of us, all of us who have been touches by such losses and all those who haven’t as well should this day remember the horrors all those young men suffered, the tragedy that was inflicted on all sides, the terrible and unforgivable evil that is war. We must never forget our heroes, never forget the losses we have suffered, the horrors they have suffered because only if enough of us remember can we prevent war like that ever happening again. All war is profoundly evil and wars betweeen many nations is the worst of it’s kind, it must be prevented from ever happening once more.