A lesson to hold high for future generations

31st July 2009 at 01:00

The sad death last week of Harry Patch marks a key moment in history and for the future. The last surviving veteran of the Great War, Mr Patch was our only link to that most horrific of conflicts. His presence at the Cenotaph each year reminded us all of the origins of the poppy we wear with such pride every November, in memory of the killing in France and Flanders from 1914-18.

From the age of 100, Mr Patch opened up to telling people about his experiences in the trenches. Many did not, taking their appalling memories to the grave. Mr Patch's openness has helped us, and future generations learn about the horror of war.

With his death, it is all the more important that the younger generations take forward the lessons he left for us.

Last year, I took a school group to their first armistice service. Their engagement, participation and commitment to return gave me hope.

They are the next generation, not only of Armistice Day attendees, but - more importantly - of decision-makers in government, military, public service, in business, in our communities. They must learn from history and take the lessons not of generals or prime ministers, but of a common soldier.

Mr Patch said in one interview, "All those young lives lost in a war which ended across a table. Where's the sense in that?" I am sure he would have agreed with war poet John McCrae's message for the young: "To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high."

Let it be a torch of peaceful co-existence for future generations.

Neil McLennan, PT history, Tynecastle High, Edinburgh.

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