A 20-year-old Sedberghian, after barely 5 months training in Aldershot, set off to join his Battalion already deployed to the Far East in preparation for operations in Borneo. This Second Lieutenant, like so many before him, embarked on the journey full of excitement and eager anticipation with little or no regard for what was to face him. Whilst embarked on the long journey, so many thoughts began to go through his mind. What would it be like to command some 35 soldiers on operations, many of whom would be older than him? How will the soldiers react to this fresh faced officer barely out of school? Will they trust him with their lives? Will he be up to the challenge of leading them when the bullets are flying? Will his brief training be sufficient to get him through the challenges ahead for which he had no experience?
Within a week he was leading his platoon on operations in the jungle, and before he knew it came face to face with the enemy and for the first time experienced live rounds being fired at him. The noise was unbelievable. Initially it appeared unreal and unlike anything he’d experienced before. This was the real thing- no blank rounds on exercise anymore! That subaltern was me. I survived and returned home safely from Borneo in 1966 after only a few months on operations, unlike the countless number of young men in the Second World War who gave up their today so that we might have our tomorrow. Estimates for the deaths in that war of 75 years ago suggest that some 75 million people died, including about 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians. Some 5 million prisoners of war perished, and you only have to go through the gates of Belsen Concentration Camp today to find no birdsong. You are faced with huge mounds of earth bearing the stark message that ‘Here lie buried 5,000 dead’. More than 20,000 are buried in these mass graves.
These figures highlight the appalling price that was paid by millions to secure our freedom. That is why we remember them and that is why we wear poppies, the flowers that grew on the battlefields after the end of the First World War. They are a reminder of the horrors of conflict and the preciousness of the peace for which they fought so hard to achieve. The poppy is a symbol of both Remembrance and hope for a peaceful future. By remembering all who have served, we recognise their willingly-endured hardship and fears taken upon themselves so that we could live in peace. They believed that their actions at the time would make a significant difference for the future, but it is up to us to ensure that their fight for peace was not in vain.
Brig. David Biggart, OBE (P 59-65)
President, OS Club