Reprinted for Remembrance Sunday as a reminder of the horror of all wars.
Has always been a big deal in my life and the lives of my family. Being brought up in Clydebank I was very aware of the war and going to school through the bombed out tenements in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties. The Clydebank Blitz occurred between the 13-15 March 1941 and only 8 houses in the town were left unscathed. 1200 were killed, well over 1000 seriously injured and many others were left with lesser injuries. 35,000 people were left homeless.
I remember as a young child digging in the spare ground opposite our house and finding lots of broken China smashed to smithereens. It was only later as I grew up I learned that spare ground had been homes destroyed by the Luftwaffe and the broken China had belonged to the families whose homes had been destroyed in the blitz.
My dad became a local minister in Clydebank. He had worked in a steelworks in Lanarkshire on the nights of the blitz. He could see the fires in Clydebank from his garden in Stepps where he lived. Amongst his duties in the steelworks he was a qualified first aider. He got on his bike and cycled to Clydebank to see if he could help. On his way back to Stepps some days later he went home via the RAF offices in Glasgow where he surrendered his “reserved occupation” and joined the fight against fascism. He served in Golspie, Egypt and Greece during the war. He had a lucky escape as he was on a troopship heading for Singapore. They had just passed through the Suez Canal when news of the surrender of Singapore came through. After a delay the troopship returned to Egypt and my father, along with everyone else became part of the British Forces in the Middle East. A few weeks earlier and he could have been a Japanese Prisoner of War.
He was always very emotional on Remembrance Sunday. I was a bugler in the Boys Brigade and was part of the trio who played the Last Post at the service each year. I remember the church being packed at those services as I am sure others, outside the normal congregation, attended that service and regarded it as a very special event. It always was in Clydebank.
My dad, if he had lived would have been 100 this year, as it was he passed away in his 93rd year. As he was only 18 at the start of the war, 20 on the nights of the blitz and lived until he was 92 he was amongst the last living of the wartime generation who actually fought in the war. Their time has been and gone and it is up to us to determine how best to remember and honour those who are gone.
My wife Celia during her period in office as Provost of Renfrewshire was part of the Holocaust Memorial Service when Renfrewshire hosted the annual event and was much moved by the experience as she was when she visited the war graves in Normandy. So much so she insisted I should accompany her on a further visit and shortly before Covid arrived we visited Arras in France and witnessed the horror that was WW1.
I hate the thought of war. I don’t think it is a thing of the past.It is different nowadays, even more terrible some might argue. It is perhaps not as widespread as a World War but just as deadly and final if you fall foul of it. Worryingly it appears frequently to be quite easy to start and the sophistication of the weapons allows much of the aggression to be controlled by remote controls far away from the target area. It changes war into even more of a game, making it impersonal. Literally just like a computer game where the value of a human life is of no account. That all makes wars much more likely.
I mention that because I think it important that front and centre of any remembrance of war must highlight the enormous tragedy and waste of lives involved. It should not be glorified but recognised for the political and diplomatic failure it represents.
I am not a peace at all costs person though. I recognise wars can be necessary where a state loses its ability to control its leaders and those uncontrolled leaders set out to persecute their own people or conquer other lands. While hoping that those leaders can be quickly overthrown, realistically it may take armed reverses to confirm to the rogue state that there is no victory possible with violence.
So now that the Second War generation has passed I think people should demand a more balanced Remembrance Day that makes clear the futility of war and celebrates war’s absence from our lives. Now that is something I would be very happy to celebrate and remember each year, with it also thanking our service personnel for the role they play in maintaining that peace. I recognise being part of the UK then years without a war may be few and far between but I would be confident in an Independent Scotland it could become a regular event year on year. We would have no empire or imagined world status to defend.
I respect anyone who risks their own lives to defend ours but the aim should be that all efforts should be directed at making such sacrifice unnecessary and obsolete. Now that is what true victory would look like.
i am, as always
Yours for Scotland
A great song and video highlighting the total futility and waste of life war represents. It was commissioned to mark a new memorial and was played at the 2007 Tattoo in Passchendaele in that year.
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