Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A special ceremony

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

I had the privilege of attending the Laying Up of the Standard of the 12th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment (Airborne) at Exeter Cathedral last week. It also marked the disbanding of the ex-serviceman's association linked to that battalion - which was the unit Cathy's Granpy served with during World War II.

The Airborne were the guys in gliders who landed in Northern France on D-Day to establish bridgeheads, most notable at Pegasus Bridge. Granpy's unit fought in the Ardennes and crossed the Rhine. They were among the first British troops to pass concentration camps, which they had to walk past leaving the forces coming behind them to liberate the prisoners. After marching across Europe they ended up somewhere on the shores of the Baltic where they were mistakenly shot at by Red Army soldiers. 

Granpy doesn't talk much about the war, or the time he spent enforcing the British mandate in Palestine in the years after VE Day. When he came home he wanted to forget about what he called the worst time of his life. He only got involved in the Association of those who served and survived relatively recently. 

It was poignant to see him standing among the handful of men who are left from the battalion. Many wore their medals. I always find it difficult to express the gratitude I feel to all those who left the safety of their homes to do the unthinkable, to shoot and be shot at, to risk death in gliders crash-landing at night in occupied territory. 

It was an honour to go and see the Standard committed to safe-keeping in the Regimental Headquarters and to sing the regimental hymn alongside these soldiers who have grown old, against all odds; to recognise their bravery and sacrifice.

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