BY PHIL DEEKS
As bombs dropped to level the ceaseless factories, my great-grandfather did not leave his route home, did not leave his wife and daughters longer than his shift required, did not leave them to wonder or worry as bombs dropped behind him. It was a quiet kind of bravery, not that of men who risked their lives at the front, who fought for their families through shot and shell, but it was no less worthwhile. It was the bravery of an engineer, fingers blackened by his graft, of a man, husband and father who put his family before himself, an act typical of a generation that had been raised by parents who had given their all for Britain twenty-five years earlier.
Not all men are the same.
The Duke of Wellington remarked: “[Our army] is composed of the scum of the Earth – the mere scum of the Earth.” He was right. The men who broke Napoleon’s Old Guard, who assailed the sheer walls of Badajoz, who carried the day at Salamanca were rapists, thieves, debtors, and drunks – especially drunks. Their morals were absent, but their courage was not, as the Iron Duke observed as he finished his appraisal: “It is only wonderful that we should be able to make so much out of them.” Had every pickpocket, poacher, and collection-plate pilferer not fought like demons alongside their officers, the rigour of their drill enabling them to out-shoot the French, we would not have inherited a country unconquered for close to a thousand years.
Our freedom is built on their bones: every man, woman, and child who died for Britain, irrespective of their character. We may admire them, condemn them, not care enough to form an opinion, but we owe them a debt of gratitude for the lives we live today.
The Christian message is one of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption for good reason. Marriage, laws, and moral codes tame people, but they do not rid them of their base instincts. When people are freed from their obligations of decency, they do wicked things, but that is true of every race, religion, and nationality. We Britons are not unique. The faults of our people are the faults of every people. Our ancestors might have been moral or not, the wars they fought worthy or not, but the blood they shed remains the same. They fought and died for Britain, and we owe them our thanks.
It is why I wear my red poppy.
It is why I can write this piece.
Were it not for paupers and princes, paragons of virtue and vice, sons and daughters of British soil who answered the call to fight we would not have the freedoms that define us. We owe it to their memories to remember their sacrifice and our past, to take pride in our achievements with the same fervour as others denounce our failures, to accept that we are neither wholly saints nor sinners. It is the only way we can retain a sense of ourselves and fulfil the duty of care we have to the country bequeathed to us by our ancestors.
It is the least we can do.
My great-grandfather did not live to old age. He succumbed to cancer ten years after the war, but his memory, as told by my mother and her family, stays with me, now more than ever as I think about a future as a husband and a father. I will endeavour to be there for my family as my great-grandfather was there for his. I hope my future actions will do his memory proud.
Phil Deeks is a writer based in Cheshire. He creates prose and poetry inspired by the art and ideas too often abandoned by his peers. He is a passionate advocate of democracy and common sense. You can find more of his thoughts on Twitter.