Friday, December 30, 2016

Alistair Urquart RIP

My father was a whisker too young to be called up to fight in World War II: when I was a small child a substantial proportion of my males teachers and relatives who were older than my father were veterans of one or other of the two world wars.

These past two years we have been remembering with sadness the centenaries of the First World War: it does not seem that long ago that this terrible conflict passed from living memory into history as the last few survivors, men like Harry Patch who I had the honour to hear speak when my old University gave him an honorary degree, have died.

When my children were small they had the opportunity to meet far fewer veterans of the second world war than I knew from the first one: now the second war too is passing from living memory to history as the last survivors of this war too reach the end of their natural spans. I am not aware that any of the WWII veterans I knew as a child are still alive.

Today I came across an obituary in the Telegraph of Alistair Urquhart, a soldier in the Gordon Highlanders who died earlier this year at the age of  97. He had been a prisoner of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945, surviving both the infamous Death Railway and the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki; his memoir, "The Forgotten Highlander", became a bestseller in 2009.

He was one of a great many unsung heroes without whom unimaginable evils would have been unleashed on this country and the world and it is clear from the obituary here that he suffered great hardships with extreme bravery and fortitude.

Yet from what I saw of the men who served in world war two, dedication and bravery - not in the sense of not feeling fear, but in the sense of going ahead and doing what needed to be done anyway - were not rare but astonishingly common. When human beings are faced with terrible challenges it is nothing short of amazing how many of them can rise to them.

May Alistair Urquart, and all those of his comrades who fought to defend this country and have gone before him, rest in peace.

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