Retired firefighter Arthur Lockyear MBE has organised the annual Remembrance Parade in Durham since 2014. As the city prepares to commemorate the sacrifice of war, he tells the Durham Times why it is important we continue to remember

AS we approach the weekend of Remembrance and view the prospect of cold winds blowing autumnal leaves around our war memorials, and the sight of elderly men and women wearing medals pinned to their overcoats, and bright poppy wreathes in their hands, some may ask: "Do we really need to mark events which occurred before most us were born. Isn’t it all now meaningless"?

Well anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that my answer is a resounding yes, we do need to mark Remembrance Sunday, and no it is far from being meaningless.

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The reasons for Remembrance are many and varied, some born out of bitter personal experience of those who have served or continue to serve in our armed forces, or those who have lost a loved one to one conflict or another. There will surely be many a 90-year-old shedding a tear or two, not only for mates lost in World War Two and those killed or injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, but for an earlier generation who fought in the slaughter of the Somme or Jutland or Gallipoli.

A vicarious sense of history may well contribute to an appreciation of Remembrance, recalling that a century ago thousands upon thousands of young men of all classes throughout the UK flocked to the ‘Colours’ to serve in Pals’ Battalions, eventually leaving whole towns to endure the collective pain a mourning a lost generation. The Durham Pals for instance, the 18th Battalion the Durham Light Infantry, over the first three days of the Somme lost over 500 officers and men.

The DLI fought in every major battle on the Western Front and lost more than 13,000 men with many others wounded or taken prisoner. Very obviously the Durhams had no monopoly on such loss, the grief of war was borne by the communities that provided the troops for every regiment and Corps of the Army, and every ship of the Royal Navy.

The sickening horror of such overwhelming losses in a war that was, to say the least, often strategically inprudent, loses little of its impact a century on. As least it does to those of us who are not so self-centred that we cannot feel an empathy across the decades with those who with a maelstrom of fear churning their guts stood ready to ‘go over the top’, or those whose fathers, husbands and brothers did not return from the Kaiser’s war; or if they did were scourged by gas-shredded lungs, blinded eyes, shattered bodies, or traumatised minds. To let the pandemic scale of both world wars slip into an historical by-line would not only be a gross abomination to the moral fibre, it would be as if we were excusing or condoning this vexation of humanity. Perhaps more to the point by not recognising the spiritual or ethical value of Remembrance we are risking history repeating itself, and that recklessness endangers we all.

When looking at the Second World War it would be easy to take the short-sighted and inaccurate view that it was won by a handful of white Brits during the Battle of Britain. The Royal Air Force’s roll of honour for the Battle of Britain recognises 574 members of aircrew from countries other than the UK who served alongside 2,353 British crew. Included in this number are 98 New Zealanders, 12 French, 10 Irish, 84 Czechs, 21 Australians and 139 Poles who accounted for 12 per cent of total kills.

Without for one moment detracting from those British subjects who fought for freedom during World War Two, a much wider perspective must be adopted if we are to gain a clearer perspective of that war. For instance a sizeable percentage of the West Indian male population volunteered to serve on ‘Merchant-men’, certainly one of the most dangerous avocations of the war, as they suffered a rate of attrition similar to that of Bomber Command. Over 50,000 allied and neutral merchant seamen lost their lives keeping the lifeline to the UK intact.

The role and effectiveness of the Indian Army generally, and the Gurkhas in particular, is the thing of legend with 1.3 million men from the countries we now know as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh serving in the First World War, and 2.5 million in the Second. Some 87,000 Indian soldiers lost their lives in World War II, and 30 Victoria Crosses were awarded to them. The biggest special forces group ever established, the ‘Chindits’ was formed not just from British regiments, but from units of Gurkha, Burmese, Indian and Nigerian troops, and it has to be said that those barely acknowledged West African soldiers were rated as being as good as the very best of the Indian troops.

I could go on by mentioning the many citizens of the Irish Republic who volunteered to fight, the hundreds of thousands of Chinese labourers who worked to keep our troops on the Western Front supplied during the Great War, and those fought against and suffered the bestial ferocity of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Whatever background, our beliefs, our ethnicity I believe that we all have a stake in Remembrance. So will you stand with us on Remembrance Sunday and give witness to the loss and service of our armed forces from Gallipoli to the Gulf, and Flanders to the Falklands.