Stick me up a wall and threaten to shoot me unless I told you whether I’d kill someone and I’d probably say I was a Pacifist. I don’t like labels and over the last few years ‘I am a Pacifist’ has become ‘I am probably a Pacifist’. I simply don’t know what I’d do if I was asked and I have fewer absolutes than I used to have.
Today, if I have got my bookings right, I will be on the Somme. My holiday began in France on the WW2 beaches and it ends here. I have been here before and find it incredibly moving. I once walked round a graveyard in the Somme following a British coach party in their 50s and 60s who were chattering. I wondered how they could chatter in a place like that. This comes from someone to whom dignity and ceremony generally means almost nothing. But a place and an event like this should be remembered.
My childhood had some connection with this: my grandpa was called up in 1918 and was the first of our family to visit France (I will not be following in his footsteps as I am unlikely to be carrying a rifle prepared to shoot someone). He died in 1978 and I never spoke to him about this. My school crossing guard, Charlie, fought on the Somme. Apparently, if he was asked to speak about it, he would well up with tears and could not speak.Â I don’t know what my children (nearly 8 and 5) will make of it: they have some interest, but this is distant history.
I have heard it said that 1/7/1916 is the most significant date in British history. From this date we realised that we weren’t unstoppable and cukturally it had a huge impact on British self perception (part of me wonders if this is one reason why we do irony and sarcasm better than most European/North Atlantic nations. I’m sure this is why we are less gung ho than our American Allies). Today I may well be doing something that I generally struggle to do: shedding tears….