So here we are, a hundred years after the guns fell silent. As the smoke cleared, the world the men had fought to protect was gone. But plant a boot in the earth and see that men are men still. It seems so recent, familiar. We hear the names read each year, and it is not long since the last fighting man marched off to his final billet. We can see photographs and film footage and recognise our family features in an old, sepia picture tucked in a drawer. Did the Battle of Waterloo seem so close for those who landed in France 99 years after those guns ceased?
When we think in terms of memorials we ask if it was worth it. Yes – I wrote about that in the Salisbury Review as we marked a hundred years from the beginning of the war. I could not hike careless across the timeless Downs if they had been churned up in industrial war as France and Flanders were. It might have come to that.
The world looks very different. Machines in every household can tell you exactly how far it is to Tipperary, I can sit here typing on an electronic machine unimagined in those days, which is a product of the peace of the English-speaking world whose norms are now those of the world because of what was done in the bloody fields of Europe a hundred years and seventy years ago. In this world I can be confident that my children will not see what their great-grandfather did.
A hundred years then, a hundred years in which some ill-favoured souls have laboured relentlessly to destroy from the nation all that sense of patriotism and duty which achieved victory (and they have drunk deep of the tax money paid by Britons to do so, to our shame). Yet we are here, unbowed and honouring those who gave all to defend our land and Empire.
Those faces are familiar because men are still men the whole world over, and there is no peace because men are men, nor ever will be. We can however learn, and channel that vigour to better things, even as we that are left grow old.