It’s been a week of privilege and honour…
Over the past week, I had the opportunity of spending four days with members of the Kenya Regiment as we commemorated the first soldiers killed in the Great War in East Africa campaign on 15 August, 100 years ago. James Willson led the troops around the Tsavo area of Kenya – Voi (where the first African VC is buried and we laid a wreath), Maktau, Taveta and Salaita including the famous baobab tree which allegedly hid a German female sniper. At the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in Taveta we took part in a wreath laying ceremony with the Deputy Governor of Taita Taveta commemorating the lives of all those involved in the Great War of 1914-1918. What was also poignant about this day in this cemetery was that it was the first I visited in East Africa back in 2000 – a pilgrimage undertaken for a friend whose grandfather lay buried there: a young piper who died a few days after the battle of Salaita Hill in February 1916.
Not even a week later, back in London, I was at another commemoration event. This time led by someone roughly my age remembering his war – that of 1987 when young South African men fought against the Russians in the Battle on the Lomba in Angola. As David gave us a glimpse of what the book entailed wearing the medals he’s only now taking possession of, it made me realise how easy it is to discount our peers as veterans. How young they are! Sitting on the tube writing this blog and reflecting on all the conflict around us, I wonder how many young people in the carriage are veterans of conflict, unable to speak about it for whatever reason.
David downplayed his personal role, emphasising and acknowledging the work of the mechanics, cooks and others in keeping the armed forces moving. However, more often than not, the only way to tell the story of others is through one’s own as others have done in diaries of their WW1 experiences and which I tried to highlight in my recent talk at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Tanzania and at Lions Bluff.
Times moves on, the political landscape changes and often those who fought under the auspices of one regime later find themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of the political divide. The ‘big’ stories find their place in the history books, often written by the victor, but, time and again, it’s those who fought to preserve their country irrespective of political leaning who get forgotten as remembering their contribution did, or does, not fit the political image being portrayed then or now.
It is to all these unacknowledged veterans (past, present and future) of all ages, colours and creeds that this blog post is dedicated.
We will remember them! and where possible bring their story to light.
(*thanks to the Veteran of the SA Legion at David’s book launch for the title of this blog – apologies I didn’t get your name)