The living link between the First World War and today's Britain might already have become largely symbolic. But with the deaths of Henry Allingham ten days ago, and of Harry Patch this weekend, that link has finally broken. And it is entirely fitting that the passing of this generation should be formally commemorated; the Prime Minister's proposal for a service at Westminster Abbey will surely be embraced.
A special act of national remembrance, however, must on no account become an excuse for subsequent forgetting. To listen to Harry Patch and others was to learn at first hand how that war was experienced, not by strategists, politicians or planners, but by those actually fighting on the ground. And while their reminiscences underlined for many what wars have in common – the rawness, the brutality, the confusion – they also highlighted the truth that each war teaches its own lessons, too: lessons that, if forgotten, have to be expensively learnt all over again.Reuse content