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What was it all for?

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”.

2 replies on “What was it all for?”

Well written Phil!

We must never forget the enormous sacrifice made by a generation now fading to the liberties we enjoy.

Few are willing to talk of it, which is sad, but so understandable.

It was only recently that I found that a particular member of the congregation of my local church lied about his age to join the RAF, was shot down twice, escaped twice over tortuous routes through France, Spain and Portugal and was the only member of his seven man Lancaster crew to survive the war.

To him, and others like him, we owe a debt which makes Labour’s profligacy look like pocket change. Not a political point but I couldn’t think of a better anaolgy.

My father also served with the Black Cats. He was very proud of the Regiment and what they achieved. I have collected all his momentos, his Black Cat insignia, service book, photos, and the book of verse Ballads of a Black Cats, Burma 1943-1945, written by his friend Patrick McEvoy. I am so proud of him and just wish I had listened more when I was younger.

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