Millions of lives. Millions of people taken from their families, girlfriends, boyfriends, loved ones; Millions of paths that will not be walked, millions of kisses that will not be felt, millions of goodbyes that will not be spoken.
Today is a day of remembrance in Australia, and I always feel a pang of sorrow listening to the letters written by soldiers and hearing of how many voices were silenced as a result of war. During the first and second World Wars, over one-hundred million lives were lost. This is something not many people can comprehend… One-hundred million individuals, each with their own story and with their own family, silenced forever. For some, this meant they left orphans behind who would grow up remembering their legacy. For others, this meant they never got the chance to even find love, let alone have children. For a great many, this meant they would not even live to be twenty years of age.
I think of the youth of today when I read these statistics, and I cannot imagine seeing them ripped from the world they know and thrown in to combat, forced to kill or be killed. I do not mean this in a derogatory way, I only mean it simply as a comparison; that is exactly what happened to the youths during those horrific wars. They were told to stand up straight, and fight for their country, and march with pride to the front-lines. I assume many of those young souls didn’t have even the slightest idea of what they would be up against, or that they would never return home alive.
The wars I write of did not just impact humanity with an unimaginable death-toll, though. There were repercussions for those who fought and returned home. Often, they returned physically injured and would never be able to walk or use their hands again. Those who returned home were also psychologically injured – they suffered from post traumatic stress and harrowing guilt. Those who fought would never hear a car backfire without flinching, they would never hear a door slam without their heart skipping a beat, they would never hear a plane fly over without dropping to the ground for fear of being annihilated. A lot of the time, they would be told to stop being silly or to pull themselves together. These remarks and disregards would come from people who still believed war to be a fantastical and all around great occurrence. One cannot begin to understand how these soldiers felt being told they were silly after returning home from scenes of dead bodies decaying before their eyes, and fellow soldiers who were often good friends being slaughtered right beside them.
Often forgotten as well is the plight of the animals who fought loyally alongside their human counterparts during these wars. Horses, dogs, camels, mules, carrier pigeons, even cats were a part of these wars. These animals lent their strength and brevity to their human comrades in their own unique ways. Horses, of course, would assist in riding in to battle and carrying loads too heavy for a human to bare. Dogs would dart across mine-fields, mapping paths for their comrades to follow. Carrier pigeons were often the only possible means of communication.
For some soldiers, their animal comrades were the only friendship they had during the war. If they were not killed, they had no choice but to abandon the animals who fought so fiercely – the risk of disease was too great to bring them home by their sides. They were forced to do the animals the mercy of a quick death, or leave them behind to be used for labour if they were able. If you have an animal friend, whether they are a horse or a dog or a bird, I am sure you would never want to be the one who takes their life with your own hands.
Some of you may have read this and felt nothing. Our world is so desensitised, it is not surprising that some are unaffected by this day of remembrance. Some of you, though, will dwell on the sheer horror of what happened during the wars, and you may even feel pain at remembering the fallen.
Do not feel guilty if you are not emotionally affected – I cannot blame you for this. I only ask you to remember, and respect. I may not be sitting here writing these words if it wasn’t for the sacrifices of those who fought in wars to protect our freedom.
We remember them, now and always.