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Sue Carroll's column: Is this how we honour those who laid down their lives?

A FEW months ago a friend went to visit his grandfather's grave in France. He died, like poet Wilfrid Owen, just days before the First World War ended.

His grandfather's grave, between two Canadian soldiers, was beautifully tended and peaceful. And so he said what he had to say, laid some flowers and left knowing this is how it would remain for future generations.

Perhaps no one else from my friend's family will ever make that trip. But there will be others who will come and remember. It's impossible to look at the thousands of graves, stretched out for miles in Ypres, Flanders and Peronne and other French towns without giving thanks to all those men who gave their lives for our freedom.

They didn't do so willingly, and it would be wrong to say they did.

But the fact these men lie in graveyards, hundreds of miles from home is eased only by two things. Brother lies next to brother, friend next to friend in the peace and tranquillity of lawns so immaculately tended the French call the familiar long dark and light stripes "English grass".

But gardeners who work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission don't just mow lawns, replant borders and wash the headstones to prevent mould growing.

They have learned something that Ministry Of Defence officials - who propose to cut their wages - clearly don't understand. It's a word much bandied about these days... respect.

That means when an old lady surrounded by grandchildren comes to see her father's grave they turn off their lawnmowers. It means listening to stories passed on through generations about what 'Billy' or 'Fred' was really like.

It means knowing to turn away when the tears fall as an old soldier is guided to a comrade's grave. And it means caring for the flowers and tributes they leave.

I grew up in a world where the war dead were revered. I was also taught to allow people older than myself their dignity. Yet every day in Britain I see those values diminished. It's a slow and deliberate erosion of our heritage. I cannot believe that we, the British people, were forced to watch the Dome swallow up millions while some petty number-cruncher at the MOD worked out worked out on their sinister little calculator a way to cut the wages of these dedicated men.

This week it transpires the Chancellor has a pounds 16billion war chest. To put it crudely, this makes the pounds 300,000 it would cost NOT to cut the wages bill a piss in the ocean.

I trust our soldiers buried under foreign soil would, on this occasion, pardon my French.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Carroll, Sue
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 25, 2000
Next Article:Sue Carroll's column: Rich papestry of life.

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