We need to hear first-hand accounts of the war

Blaise Tapp
Blaise Tapp
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The other weekend Britain did what it does best - it staged a public display of commemoration full of pomp and ceremony - arguably one of the very last of its kind.

London, once again, led the way on this particular occasion - the 70th anniversary of VJ Day, the day which brought the horrors of the Second World War to an end.

Rather than a celebration of war and a reminder when our nation was a superpower, occasions such as those witnessed a few days ago are an opportunity to remember the sacrifices made by those who served during such conflicts.

This is a fundamental lesson which has been taught to schoolchildren up and down the country for generations but I fear these stories lose some of their resonance when the main players are no longer here.

Historians, archive footage of propaganda films and textbooks can tell us an awful lot but a story truly comes to life when the author is the person telling it. The men and women who lived through the grim reality of World War Two, be it on the beaches of Northern France, in bombed-out cities or prison camps in far-flung corners of the globe, are the only ones who can tell today’s generations what war felt and smelled like.

The next landmark VE and VJ anniversaries will be the 80th and it is inconceivable there will be more than a handful of veterans alive then to lay wreaths and salute comrades. Once that generation dies out, we will lose an invaluable insight into a world very few of us can comprehend.

As a teenager, I would do anything to avoid war stories but now I actively seek them out from my 94-year-old grandfather as I recognise the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity will not last forever.

Yes, there have been conflicts since but it is highly unlikely we will be commemorating the Iraq wars in 80 years’ time, even if we are still waiting for Chilcot Inquiry to report.

From an early age we are told to never forget but this will be made more difficult once the heroes of yesterday cease to exist.