It’s an odd world we live in. Events often unfold around us and we find ourselves in situations that are banal, interesting, exciting…sometimes even noteworthy…perhaps momentous. The stock that we, and indeed our society puts on these events is down to the interest and importance we place in them. What might be momentous to one…is banal to another.
I have found myself part of the Imperial War Museum’s War Story Exhibit. When I was on my R&R I was asked by the IWM and the RAF to take part and to be interviewed on camera. I was at first a bit shocked that I had been asked, and then a bit proud to have been…and then…
…and then I went along to the opening of the exhibition. Well actually I went along to have a look at the exhibit before the grand opening, to check it out on the quiet, but then that evening I went to the opening event where the great and the good – and me – spoke great words, and I wandered about in pretty much the same bemused way that I did that afternoon.
There I was. Me. In the exhibit. Me on camera. People can go up and choose to listen to the words I spoke about things that happened to me in Afghanistan this year. About what happened when the lad got blown up in the IED blast. About what it was like to go outside the wire for the first time. About what I did when I arrived home for my R&R. And they can watch me and listen to me chatter away about these things.
But here’s the thing. I am there in the Grand Hall of the Imperial War Museum. Alongside a First World War Tank. Under a Spitfire. Next to a Polaris Missile. There’s a picture of me on the wall there. On the same wall as a picture of a group of airmen from the 1940’s – dressed in Mae Wests and flying suits, clearly airmen from the Battle of Britain or similar. There are other pictures and exhibits around the hall. All things and people that are greater than what I. Even the other people in the exhibition are greater and better and did more than I did. They speak of the firefights they were in. Of the friends they lost. Of the fear of combat. I just went to Afghanistan and did some stuff was NEAR to someone getting IED’d, was shot at from a long way away and with ineffective fire – most of projects and work I did didn’t even get finished by the time I left. And then I had the balls to blather on about it to anyone who would listen.
I am truly humbled to be part of that exhibition. I am also a bit embarrassed by it too. Why do I deserve to be there? I don’t. It’s just because I can’t keep my bloody mouth shut that I am. Others should be there. Someone better, someone who did more. Someone who saved someone else’s life, or found a thousand IEDs, or built something that actually worked out there should be in it. Not a gobby chancer like me.
And then the time of year it is struck me too. I was lucky to go out there and come home unhurt. I won’t say unscathed by it, because one of the reasons that I haven’t blogged for a while is that I have had a huge writers blog brought on by the fact that I feel guilty about not having done more out there. I went there and did my best, but, I can’t help feeling that my best wasn’t good enough. I could have done more. I went there saying it was a test for me…and I can’t help feeling like I failed that test. At least I didn’t live up to my own expectations.
You see others out there – that I knew personally – who were better than me didn’t come home. I met Dooner and JJ From 1 Rifles out there and instantly was amazed about how brilliant soldiers they were. But they didn’t come home to meet their families again. Several other guys – including one other, Danny – all brilliant, brilliant soldiers got themselves hurt with life shattering injuries, and me, a daft Raffy who struggled with the heat and the kit and the gear and the going made it through unharmed.
And I am the one in the Exhibition Hall of the Imperial War Museum. It’s more than bizarre. It’s more than wrong.
My record will be there for a year, their record will be in their families lives forever. Theirs SHOULD be in the countries lives forever. They did amazing, brave, heroic and self-sacrificing things. I did not.
Remember them, and remember every other British and Commonwealth soldier, sailor, airman and marine who has given everything they can for this country. And remember that for every one of those who died, there are many, many more who are still suffering, either physically scarred by battle, mentally battered by war, or just now aged and infirm and unable to help themselves anymore.
Please remember everyone of them this November 11th (and again on Sunday November 13th). It’s only a few minutes of your time, and if you can maybe a couple of quid into the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal too. I certainly will be thinking about them and their families this year…and not thinking about much else.