“Why on earth are you wearing an artificial red flower on your shirt?” someone asked me the other day as I waited for treatment at a local 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 in UK. The First World War (1914-18), known then as ‘The Great War’, 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 all 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 Nov 11 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 addition of 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 six years ago fell actually on Nov 11 and so felt a little more special for me to observe. This year is particularly important as it is the centenary of the end of the Great War. My maternal grandfather lost his life in May, 1918 at the age of 33 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 and remember 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 years, I came, unexpectedly, face to face with the horrors of war when I was responsible, on behalf of OXFAM-GB, for the care and welfare of about 600,000 Bangladeshi refugees in many of the more than 900 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 and other helpers, which I heard, are still clearly etched in my memory.
It is also significant that I am writing these few lines of my memories and feelings the day before Nov 3, ‘Jail Killing Day’, one of the blackest days in the history of Bangladesh when four men, who had been involved in master-minding the Liberation War and had served in the Government of Bangladesh, were brutally murdered inside the Dhaka Jail.
I had the great pleasure of meeting two of them, Tajuddin Ahmad and AHM Qamaruzzaman, in Kolkata on a few occasions to seek their help and advice which was invaluable in terms of distribution of relief materials in ‘free and liberated’ Bangladesh. Later when I came to Dhaka in late January 1972, they welcomed me with great warmth and friendship and arranged for me for a memorable meeting with Bangabandhu.
Many people say “Never Again”, meaning “No More War”, but somehow wars and killing never seem to go away….