All of my relatives who served, however, are people of whom I feel a duty to recall, especially at this time of the year, when our thoughts are directed to the sacrifices that previous generations made. All of them placed themselves in a service where, potentially, harm might come their way - and they accepted that risk. They stepped forward when asked to do so.
Their sacrifice was not always fully understood, I suspect. My grandfather, who was in the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, was part of a tiny yet professional army which made its way into the midst of a fight between armies tent times its size, and more. I doubt that any of those men - who were assured that the fighting would be over by the first Christmas - had even the most vague notion of the hellish conflict that was about to unfold and envelop them. Nobody did.
We look back at the sacrifices of our forebears with the benefit of hindsight and the analysis of experts and fools alike, but I am most intensely moved by the knowledge that ordinary, working class people (there's a UK term which doesn't translate well across the Atlantic) just like me cowered in abject terror as they were bombarded with tons of high explosive and shrapnel. Unimaginable numbers died, and many times that were injured and maimed. After the unprecedented devastation of the First World War, Europe did it all over again twenty years later, and still people went to war, into the meat grinder that was modern battle. They knew, by then, what was possible, and still they went. Even more were wiped off the planet, or had their lives irrevocably changed.
My parent's families went to war - whether at home or on the field of battle. They joined the armed forces to fight or contribute to the fighting in the traditional way, or else they fought on 'the home front' as it was called: they were bombed by the enemy, forced out of their homes, yet they never gave up. they fought in the only way open to them: they carried on with life, and they worked to survive. That generation endured fear and uncertainty which we look upon these days as beyond our comprehension, even as it continues overseas.
Even as we remember 'them', we would do well to try to imagine what they went through, whether in the clamour and chaos of the battlefield, screaming about in flimsy aircraft at dizzying heights and firing guns at one another, fighting for life in the charnel-houses of battered warships and merchant ships, or waiting for the bombs to fall through the rooves of their homes as they sheltered their children beneath them. What they went through - what they endured and survived - made my life possible. The sacrifices and efforts of an entire generation made it possible for me to make the choices that I have made, and to arrive where I am and how I am.
Even though I knew only a few of them, I think of them all - at this time of the year particularly. Some of them I can only imagine from photographs or old stories. Many of them are a mystery to me. Nevertheless, one truth pervades everything: I walk - and do everything else - in their shadows. I thank them.