Thursday, 20 October 2016

We 'Must' remember them

I spent the start of this week in Belgium and Northern France with 40 teenagers, we were visiting both the battlefields and the cemeteries that cover Flanders.

We visited Arras, the northern French town twinned with Ipswich, we paid our respects to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice from small cemeteries such  as the Suffolk  Cemetery in the Ypres salient to the large Thiepval Memorial at the Somme.

On the Tuesday night, 3 of the young pupils laid a reef on behalf of the whole school at the Menin Gate, a moving ceremony that I would recommend you all try to attend.

But it was on the last day that I visited two locations that made me think long and hard about the cost of war - that is why when we say 'We will remember them' it actually should be 'We must remember them' - to me, teaching our younger citizens  about the horrors of war is our only real hope of stopping the suffering that is caused by war.

At the start of the last day we visited the Essex Farm cemetery and the grave of Valentine Jo Strudwick, who was killed in battle at the age of 15 whilst serving in the same regiment that I would join over 60 years later - the Rifle Brigade/ Royal Green Jackets. The clouds were dark, a cold wind blew and it started to rain as I stood and just thought of the how young this Rifleman had been when his life was taken from him - even as a former soldier who had joined at 16, I still found it hard to imagine the thoughts that went through the head of Valentine as he stood in that wet and muddy trench.

Our next stop was the giant Tyne Cot Cemetery and I stood by one of the panels and stared at the name of Herbert Walker, whose body was never found but died in 1917, he was just 19 but he had been a pupil at the school I now work at and lived just round the corner from my own home - at the bottom of Sidegate Lane, his house is in the ward I now represent.

Visiting any war cemetery or memorial can be  emotional but in my opinion standing and looking at the grave or a memorial to a soldier who come from your home town, or are maybe distant relatives or who have a connection through your school or workplace really brings home how the First World War touched every family in this country.

I will always remember Joe Strudwick and Herbert Walker.

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