“Why on earth are you wearing a flower on your shirt?”, someone asked me today as I waited for treatment at Apollo Hospital. I explained, at quite some length, that every year in Britain and other countries of the world we remember those who gave their lives in different wars to keep the world free. I explained that the second Sunday of November is observed as Remembrance Sunday. The First World War (1914-18) was regarded at that time as ‘a war to end all wars’, meaning that many people believed that such a war would never happen again. Many of the fallen soldiers lost their lives in the poppy fields of Belgium and many of the military cemeteries are in those areas too. A few years after the end of this war, in which about 10 million members of the armed forces perished as well as 7 million civilians, the poppy flower was adopted as a symbol to remember those (of all countries-allies and enemies) who lost their lives and November 11th is observed as the Day of Remembrance because the Armistice or cease-fire was effective at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, November of 1918. With the Second World War, Remembrance Sunday became much more important as the loss of life worldwide, military and civilian, rose to 50 to 70 million.
Remembrance Sunday this year falls actually on November 11th and so feels a little more special for me to observe. My maternal grandfather lost his life in May, 1918 and left my grandmother and three small children behind. A paternal great-uncle, after whom I am named, also lost his life during the same war. In the Second World War, my father was one of a handful of radar scientists who kept ahead of the Germans in the development of radar for fighting by air. One of my uncles was a fighter pilot and another in the army in Europe. So, I think of them all.
As children, we grew up in the 1950s, when post-war rationing was still in force, and learnt from our parents about the horrors of war. Our parents hoped and believed that wars would not happen again, but in fact there have been wars, big and small, going on nearly every year since then!
As a young man of 26 yrs, I came, unexpectedly, face to face with the horrors of war when I was responsible, on behalf of OXFAM-UK, for the care and welfare of about 600,000 Bangladeshi refugees in many camps in the Indian states bordering Bangladesh. The many individual stories of the murder, torture and rape of Bangladeshi civilians by Pakistani soldiers and their Razakar helpers, which I heard, are still clearly etched in my memory.
Many people say “Never Again”, meaning “No More War”, but somehow wars and killing never seem to go away…
Julian Francis, who has been associated with the development of Bangladesh since the Liberation War, was, in March 2012, awarded the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ by the Government of Bangladesh.