A Remembrance Day Story

He was very old now, but could still hold himself stiffly at attention before the monument.  His war, the one to end all wars, now just a fading part of history. Very few could remember, first-hand, the savageness of the ordeal that had sent millions of young men to their deaths. Cannon fodder, they’d called them, sent before the guns to be mown down — blown apart by chunks of metal which had decimated their frail bodies. The cream of a generation; almost wiped out.  He was haunted by the faces of the boys he’d had to order into battle, the ones who’d never come back. Yet one nameless ghost was able to bring a measure of comfort to his tormented mind. At the sound of the gun signaling the eleventh hour he was mentally transported back to the fields of Flanders…
The battle had raged for over two hours, with neither side gaining any advantage. Wave after wave of soldiers had been dispatched from the muddy trenches and sent over the top.  So many had died already that day that he decided he could not afford to lose any more men before reinforcements arrived.  Perhaps they’d give the remnants a few more days of life.  There came a slight lull in the battle due to the sheer exhaustion of the men on both sides.
During this interval, a young soldier came up to him requesting that he be allowed to go over the top.  He looked at the boy who couldn’t have been more than nineteen.  Was this extreme bravery in the face of the enemy or was the soldier so scared he just needed to get it over with? 
“Why would you want to throw your life away soldier?  It’s almost certain death to go out there.” 
“My best friend went out over an hour ago, captain, and he hasn’t come back.  I know my friend must be hurt and calling for me.  I must go to him, sir, I must.” There were tears in the boy’s eyes . It was as if this were the most important thing in the world to him.” 
“Soldier, I’m sorry, but your friend is probably dead.  What purpose would it serve to let you sacrifice your life too?” 
“At least I’d know I’d tried, sir, he’d do the same thing in my shoes.  I know he would.” 
He was about to order the boy back to the ranks, but the impact of his words softened his heart.  He remembered the awful pain he’d felt himself when his brother had died.  He’d never had the chance to say goodbye. 
“All right soldier, you can go.” Despite the horror all around them, he saw a radiant smile on the boy’s face, as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. 
“God bless you, sir,” said the soldier. 
It was a long time before the guns fell silent for the last time and each side was allowed to gather their dead and wounded.  The captain remembered the young soldier.  He looked through the many piles of bodies.  Young men.  So many as to give an unreal quality to the scene before him. 
When he came to the makeshift hospital, he looked carefully through the casualties.  He soon found himself before the prone body of the soldier, alive, but severely wounded.  He knelt down beside the young man and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. 
“I’m so sorry, son. I knew I was wrong to let you go.” 
“Oh no, sir. I’m glad you did and I’m glad you’re here now so I can thank you.  You see sir, I found my friend.  He was badly wounded, but I was able to comfort him at the end.  As I held him dying in my arms, he looked me in the eyes and said: “I knew you’d come.” 
The young soldier faded between consciousness and oblivion for some time before he finally slipped away.  The captain stayed by his side until the end, tears streaming quietly down his cheeks.  Only in war could the happy endings be so terribly sad.
As the bugle sounded “Taps”, the old captain envisioned once again the young soldier’s face. Looking up, he could almost hear the stone monument calling out to him: “I knew you’d come.” – Author Unknown

I read this Remembrance Day story several years ago and each November I read it again to remind myself of the great sacrifices the men and women in our armed forces have made so that we can live in freedom.

When I was young my foster father (Mr. Watson) would often talk to me about his experiences in the Second World War.  I was a young boy with a great imagination and he was a tremendous story-teller; and so as he would describe scenes from his time serving in the war my mind would generate vivid images of what it must have been like to be there – with him – during that time and in those battles.  In some small way those stories and the images I created as I listened to them haunt me to this day.

The interesting thing that comes to mind as I think of Dad Watson is that he never seemed visibly saddened or shaken by the events he lived through during the Second World War although I think he most certainly was.  Instead of dwelling on the difficulties he had endured during that time, he used his experiences to build a list of things that he felt he should always remember… things that would help him and those close to him live more meaningful lives.  On more than one occasion I remember Dad Watson saying “It’s November Tommy boy… November… a month to remember.”  Then he would start listing off all the things that were good in his life – things he liked to remember, things that helped him focus on the future rather than living in the past, things that would help him better help others.
It’s November friends… a month to remember…and like Dad Watson taught me, I’ve made a list of things that are good in my life.  These are things I never want to take for granted, thoughts and beliefs that I hope will help inspire others to live positive and influential lives.

Tom’s “Baker’s Dozen” things to remember in life!

  1. When someone hugs you – let them be the first to let go.
  2. Never underestimate the power of a good deed or a kind word.
  3. Be brave – even if you’re not.
  4. Think big thoughts – take care of the small details.
  5. Never give up on anyone–miracles happen every day.
  6. Waste little time grieving about past mistakes; learn from them and move on.
  7. Life’s not fair; and our legacies are determined by how we deal with the unfairness that life throws our way.
  8. Learn to listen.
  9. Sometimes opportunity knocks very quietly so listen intently and be ready to jump in when it does.
  10. Never cut what can be untied.
  11. Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all they have to cling to.
  12. Never waste an opportunity to tell someone that you love them.
  13. Remember… no one makes it alone!

And so my friends my challenge to you is this… think about the little bits of positivity in your life that you need to remember, the things that may have been lost in the business (or busy-ness) of your life.  Some of them might be right at the surface of your subconscious while others you may have to work to resurrect from deep down in the memory banks of your life. Use November as your month to do just that.  Jot down the 10 or 12 or 15 or however many things that you are able to uncover, things you may have forgotten, which will serve to refocus your life in a positive way.  Please share some of those positive thoughts with the rest of us this month on our forum.  I look forward to hearing from you!

All the best.
Tom Watson
Your Better Life

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