PEACE, THY OLIVE WAND EXTEND
In 1914 my Granda, Andra McEwen, ran away from his Mum and his home in a Lochee tenement to join up. He did so in Lancashire, aged 14, height 5 feet 4 inches, skinny with bowed legs as evidence of the rickets from which he and most of his thirteen siblings had suffered. Like his peers who hitched and walked south, he embarked upon war as a worthy adventure, a short term escapade at times preferable to the youth he left behind for good.
Andra saw service in France, was a regular soldier between the wars, a ‘peacekeeper’ in Ireland, China, Mesopotamia and Western Thrace and whilst his main occupation between 1939 and 1945 was as a miner, he was also a member of the Home Guard then.
In common with hundreds of thousands of others, Andra considered himself lucky to have returned from wars with his body intact, but his mind was not unharmed. We call it PTSD now.
Andra’s sacrifices and those of his friends and foes in battle comprise memories and experiences mainly unspeakable, brutal and utterly terrifying. That remains so today, in every war zone and conflict. Suffering is not restricted to ‘valid’ military targets but with awful predictability leads to the displacement, injury and death of civilians, ravaging and rape of women and girls by occupying forces and for all affected there is lifelong impact of man’s inhumanity to man.
There is no doubt that the little I heard of my Granda’s experiences have influenced my views about war. My own observations include knowing that while many willing, courageous combatants lay down their lives for their countrymen others are cajoled and duped, conscripted, into service against their better judgement. Some of those given a tin hat and a gun will waken in a hospital bed to learn that there can be worse things than dying.
Let us try to do all we can to promote a peaceful world and to strive with diplomacy and dialogue to restore harmony where there is hatred; these efforts won’t always succeed but there is no glory in war and nothing to be gained by remarking on its bloody statistics. Every single casualty of war is some mother’s child and each individual loss is not only one too many but confirmation were it needed that no lessons have been learned from the sacrifices of the ‘War to end all wars.’ Come 11 November 2022 I hope the whole world bows its head in respect to every victim of every armed struggle since the birth of time. For, Burns, feted as he is in Russia as well as in Scotland would prefer his most famous words to be ‘ Man to man, the world o’er, shall brothers be for a’ that.’