In 1938, aged seventeen, my father joined the Royal Air Force. Many years later, whilst myself serving in the RAF, I asked him why. His answer was simple, “It was obvious a war was coming. It seemed the right thing to do.”

My father could not be mistaken for a hero. He was an ordinary wee Scotsman. Unassuming, understated and quietly passionate, whatever life threw at him he simply tried to do what was right. He was a kind and gentle man.

He and his friends who volunteered were unexceptional: they did no more or less than their own parents and grandparents had done. They had been brought up on tales of the trenches and knew of the horrors of war but accepted that defending their country was an obligation of citizenship, as men have for centuries. In 1938 or ’39 it would have astonished them to be told they were heroes.

Neither would they have understood if they had been told they would be the last generation to respect that basic social compact. When we, their children and grandchildren, ennoble them as heroes we say more of the poverty of our horizons than of them.

Citizenship is about allegiance, about being part of something bigger than ourselves. This is not heroic, it is normal.

My father was a kind and gentle man who simply tried to do what was right.


3 thoughts on “Remembering

  1. I wonder if you have read “Starship Troopers” by Robert A. Heinlein? A major part of this book addresses a similar theme in a future society where military service is not just an obligation of citizenship, but a requirement; one is not permitted to vote or hold political office unless one volunteers for military service.

    The requirement to put one’s life on the line, even though the chances of coming to harm were slim, was considered in the novel as a necessary prerequisite to having a say in the direction society took.

    1. I read Starship Troopers many years ago. This is a variation on the old property requirement for voting, only those who had a stake in the nation, i.e. property, have a right to decide the running of the nation. I wonder what other electoral qualifications there could be.

      The thing which I remember of the book is that the force’s chaplains most definitely were not non-combatants. The idea being that they couldn’t help the troops spiritually if they didn’t share the same dangers and tasks. The space marines chaplains were types of warrior priests. I know a couple of chaplains in the Army who would be quite happy with the idea, one is a qualified sniper.

  2. Thank you for your reply Campbell – I had no idea that there used to be a property requirement to vote. While at some level restrictions on francise do seem logical, I wonder what the unintended consequences could be?

    To some extent I believe there are still restrictions on franchise for those of voting age, for example convicted prisoners are not eligible. However, I seem to recall reading that this may be changing, due to European Union policy.

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