Today is a very important day, not only in America and the UK, but also all around the world, as we mark not only Veterans Day, but also the signing of the Armistice at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, that marked the ending of the First World War.
Those of you who are regular readers of mine, will know that I've always, always been a strong supporter of the military, wherever they be from, be it my birth country of the UK, or in my adopted home of America, or indeed anywhere. What you may not be aware of, and what I'll share with you here, is exactly WHY today is so important and so poignant to me...
Come back in time with me, please. Our first stop is over 21 years ago and I'd just started tenth grade. The World Wars were to be a big part of the curriculum for the next couple of school years and because of this, our teachers had organized a long weekend trip to the Battlefields of the Somme. Immediately, I knew I HAD to go on that trip. I knew it would be so important, but little did I know at that point, just HOW important it would be, in shaping the woman I'd become.
I woke in the early hours of the morning on the day of departure, Thursday, February 11. It was still dark outside, just after 4am, and as I walked outside, the cold air hit me. As the coach made it's way to Dover, for the crossing to France, for the first time, I actually heard, and saw, dawn breaking. Once in France, on the way to our accommodation, we stopped at a couple of important sites, though in truth, I don't really remember much about them. Sorry!
On the Friday morning, our first full day, we piled out to the coach and immediately were enveloped by a thick, cloying fog, with minimal visibility. Credit where it's due, both coach drivers did a great job getting us around. The fog was to stay with us for the whole trip and that is one of the reasons why it made it such a life changer.
During the next two days, we visited many sites of importance, from crater-scarred fields where battles were fought, to trenches that were once occupied by both Allied and German forces. I'm not saying the trip wouldn't have been so important to me, had the weather been better, but for me at least, the difficult conditions made me feel exactly how the BOY soldiers would have felt; scared, anxious and at times terrified.
We also visited many cemeteries, where the fallen of both sides are at rest, and where the names of countless thousands others are inscribed, alongside tombs to Unknown Soldiers. Each and every stop on the tour was very poignant, but the one that really stands out for me, was the final stop on the Saturday night. We got into Ypres, Belgium, around 7:30pm, and made our way, with thousands of others, to the Menin Gate.
Here, at 8pm, I stood in silence as buglers from the local fire station played the "Last Post", which they've done every night since July 2, 1928, with the exception of during the Second World War. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that at that time, it was the MOST emotional thing I'd ever experienced. Since then, every time I hear the haunting tune, I'm taken back to that cold night, and my tears silently fall, as they did then.
Next year marks the centenary of the start of "The Great War", but now, with last survivors of that conflict having taken their leave and joined their comrades at eternal rest, by sharing our stories, such as this one here, and the same for every conflict since, we WILL remember them! To all who have served in the military, wherever you are from, I say this... THANK YOU for YOUR service. I salute you!
The video below, from YouTube, is of the ceremony...