Belfast Telegraph

Fallen soldiers must be remembered for the children left in anguish

By Richard Doherty

Tomorrow evening, as poppies fall in the Royal Albert Hall, thoughts will turn to those represented by each of those leaves. Images of men who rest in Flanders fields, in Egypt's Western Desert and in Normandy, or whose names are inscribed on memorials to the missing, will readily bloom in the mind's eye.

Remembrance Sunday was born after the Second World War so that all who perished in that conflict would be remembered with those who fell in the Great War. Until then, the dead of the earlier war had been remembered on Armistice Day, November 11.

But many servicemen and women have lost their lives in the 70 years since 1945. They, too, are represented in that floating shower of poppy leaves. Except for families and friends, they may not come to mind immediately, but their memory is also important.

With the withdrawal from empire, many service personnel and some of their families died in the small wars marking that process. Such conflicts continued until the withdrawal from Aden in 1967. Significantly, 1968 is often quoted as the only year since 1945 when no British soldier died on active service. Aden is significant, also, as the last time the bodies of the dead were buried in the country in which they fell. Repatriation of the dead became a common sight in recent years, but this was not always the practice.

Of the post-war conflicts, the heaviest losses of life were in the Korean War, where more than 1,100 British personnel died, the Falklands in 1982, and Northern Ireland. Among the dead of Korea were many Irishmen from the King's Royal Irish Hussars, the Royal Ulster Rifles, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers. The Rifles lost heavily on two occasions in 1951, at the Han river in January, and the Imjin river in April.

In 1956, British and French forces joined Israeli forces to invade Egypt. One of their aims was to maintain control of the Suez Canal. British losses included 16 dead in what became known as the Suez Crisis. In many respects, this episode marked the end of both British and French imperial might.

The Suez Crisis is imprinted in my mind. I was an eight-year-old who knew his father had served through the Second World War and had taken off his uniform finally in March that year. Nonetheless, I was afraid he would be sent off to war again, and it took the persuasion of both parents to assure me this would not be so.

But that memory of myself as a worried child has often come to mind in recent years when eight-year-olds have had to worry about fathers going off to war in places like the Falklands, Kuwait, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Too many children never saw their fathers again. Some never saw their mothers again, as women are now to be found in roles that once were exclusively male.

In the 1950s, there was also the turbulent Malayan Emergency, the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya and the EOKA campaign in Cyprus, all of which cost lives. The next decade brought the Malaysian-Indonesian confrontation with war in Borneo, again involving the Royal Ulster Rifles.

As the Sixties ended, riots and clashes ushered in the unrest that we euphemistically call the Troubles. Before long, a terrorist guerrilla war began that simmered for decades. More than 3,500 lives were lost. Soldiers and police were "legitimate targets" for the terrorist. So, too, were their families, with children of RUC GC, UDR/Royal Irish Home Service and regular Army personnel not only at risk, but among the dead.

And then came Iraq 2003 - Operation Telic - and Afghanistan - Operation Herrick. In the latter, 456 British personnel lost their lives.

So many eight-year-olds - and other children - have lost parents. So many have suffered indescribable anguish.

So many lives lost. So many poppy leaves in Remembrance.

  • Richard Doherty is the author of Victory in Italy: 15th Army Group's Final Campaign 1945 (Pen & Sword Military). The Readers' Editor is away

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