Remembrance Sunday: 'At least we knew what we were fighting for in 1944'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

This year's commemorations were given added poignancy by events in Afghanistan. Cahal Milmo reports

In a quiet corner of Westminster Abbey, away from the crowd gathered at the Cenotaph, Arthur Bright's voice cracked as the 11am tolling of Big Ben approached. Stood in front of rows of small wooden crosses marking the British dead from Afghanistan, the D-Day veteran said: "There was a time not so very long ago when this day was a history lesson. Not today. Young men are getting killed again. And I'm not sure why."

The 85-year-old former infantryman, with a row of five medals glistening on his chest, was one of dozens yesterday whose Remembrance Sunday route through central London to participate in two minutes of silence in Whitehall included a detour to the neat rank of rain-streaked crosses, each adorned with a photograph of one of the 231 soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

Music from military bands was relayed across Parliament Square via loudspeakers while tourists mixed with grey-haired veterans and uniformed servicemen and women. But beneath the sombre dignity and pomp of the state occasion, it was not difficult to find the raw emotion caused by the steady stream of British deaths and casualties from Helmand.

Mr Bright, from Chatham, Kent, whose closest friend was killed inches from him during the Normandy landings, said: "When you see something like all these [crosses], it brings it home that there are lots of mothers, brothers and daughters waiting for terrible news again. Seeing this brings back what it was like to be at war. At least we knew what we were fighting for in 1944. We knew if we didn't win, our country would be destroyed. In Afghanistan, these boys are fighting for people who don't even want them there. That must be hard. That's the thing about war, you've got to believe the deaths of your mates are worth it somehow."

Across the country, thousands gathered to attend Poppy Day ceremonies. including in the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett whose citizens have grown used to stopping in their tracks to show the nation's respect as hearses conveying coffins repatriated from Afghanistan pass through from nearby RAF Brize Norton. In more peaceful times, such events might have attracted only a handful of dignitaries but recent events in Helmand seemed to have persuaded others of a duty to honour the dead of previously fought battles. Among them were indeed some of those mothers, fathers and loved ones who have in recent months received a visit from a delegation of two officers sent to deliver the worst news from the battlefields of southern Afghanistan.

Carol Brackpool's son, John, was killed on 9 July this year when he was struck by a Taliban bullet during a gunfight near Lashkar Gah. The 27-year-old private from Crawley, West Sussex, who served with the Prince of Wales' Company of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, was one of eight British soldiers killed in 24 hours. Mrs Brackpool, who after meeting the mothers of those other soldiers jointly set up a charity, Afghan Heroes, to help bereaved families, attended her local church for the two-minute silence she had routinely observed in previous years.

She said: "It is the first Remembrance Sunday since Johnny was killed. Every day since has been hard but of course this is especially so. I always observed Poppy Day because we have lost so many in previous wars but because of current events I think there is greater awareness and respect for the fallen."

Hitherto supportive of the need for British troops to remain in Afghanistan, Mrs Brackpool said the latest spate of deaths, including the killings this week of five soldiers by an Afghan policeman they were helping to train, had made her reconsider the purpose of the conflict. She said: "After this week, I've begun to think for the first time that this is too much, that these young are being killed without enough progress. I had always thought we needed to stay until the job was done but I am really beginning to question that. I am only worried that if we do bring the troops home, does that mean all those who have died did so for nothing?"

In Helmand, British forces attended services on the day it was announced that the 200th from their ranks to die in combat in Afghanistan since 2001 had been killed on Saturday. At Lashkar Gar, Padre Mark Christian, the senior chaplain of 11 Light Brigade, spoke of the five soldiers – from the Grenadier Guards and the Royal Military Police – killed by an Afghan policeman. He said: "Of course, I was the chaplain to the Grenadier Guards so last week's incident was personal for me too. So I stand here and I grieve, I think of the pain of their passing and I think of their families. But that of itself is not what remembrance is about. When we remember, we think of those who have gone before us, the tens of thousands of people who have given their lives for our nation and for what they believe in."

Back in the Garden of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, a young woman who gave her name only as Kate briefly knelt down to study the Afghanistan crosses. A veteran came over to comfort her after noticing that she was in tears. Kate, who explained she was the girlfriend of one of the men pictured on the crosses, said: "It's nice to know other people realise the sacrifice of the guys. But it doesn't make it easier."

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star