This morning my twin brother and I went to meet my father at the Royal Artillery Memorial in Hyde Park Corner. My Dad served with 129th Field Regiment RA, a Scottish regiment, attached to the 17th Indian Division. The Black Cats, as they were known, had the distinction of being continually in combat during the three-year long Burma Campaign. They also had a reputation for arrogance.
My father’s division was one of thirteen drawn from the far flung corners of the British Empire that fought as part of the 14th Army, also known as the Forgotten Army. This was essentially the third army of the British Empire which learnt over three long, bloody years how to fight and beat the first army of Imperial Japan.
As we were seated my father’s Black Cat insignia was recognised by another Burma veteran from 5th King’s African Rifles attached to 11th (East Africa) Division. They talked briefly about their divisions fighting together around Bishenpur. At the end of their brief conversation our neighbour sighed and said words to the effect of: “What was it all for?”
I can quite understand anyone in their late eighties or early nineties asking that question. The modern world is so different from the one that these men were bought up in. It is understandable that they find the modern world somewhat alien. But from my generation’s perspective their contribution looks enormous. I can’t imagine a world where these men had not gone before us. They faced down totalitarianism and made the world an immeasurably a better place.
As we left I said thank you to our 11th Div neighbour. I meant thank for everything you did twenty years before I was born. Thank you for saving the world. I wasn’t brave enough to say anything like that so it was just “thank you”.