I was very sad to hear of the death on Saturday of Harry Patch, Britain’s last surviving WWI veteran, he was 111. I saw the interview with Simon Weston and found it very moving. He had seen so much in his lifetime and still thought war “a waste of time” and people should talk more.
I find the interest shown in him and his fellow soldiers, by so many people fascinating. A page has been set up on Facebook to remember him and so many of the posts on there are from people who have no idea of the sacrifices made by Harry and his generation, or indeed by the next generation who fought in WWII. They never lived through bombings, rationing, deprivations that hardly bear thinking about, or any of the other things that made the people who did, value and protect what they had, no matter what it cost.
I got to thinking about how lives have changed. Harry and his friends would ride on bikes without helmets, live in houses with no central heating and in lots of cases, no running water. No shops opened on Sundays, but they didn’t starve! They would have to work from a young age to help support the family but mum was always at home. When they played they had things like catapults and air guns, if they fell out of a tree, got cut or bruised or tripped over in the cobbled streets, there would be no lawsuit. They ate white bread plastered with butter and sometimes covered in dripping, they had full cream milk in their tea, but were not overweight as they had to walk everywhere.
I know life was not as idyllic as it appears in some films and televsion programmes, it wasn’t always sunny and there wasn’t always an abundance of food or enough money; but by and large the values that they lived by were better than we have today. Family and friendship were extremely important as was religion of one form or another. Neighbours supported each other, the police were respected and teachers were looked up to.
With the passing of the years “self” has become more important. “What’s in it for me” is still heard more loudly in one way or another than anything and the thought of doing without just doesn’t bear thinking about, as the crime figures show. Harry and his friends had a hard life compared with today; wouldn’t it be wonderful if, by the publicity surrounding his passing, people get to understand the values Harry lived by and learn to accept what they have, not think that they have a god-given right to have everything they want handed to them on a plate.