Imperial War Museum, London

31 10 2004

There is only one thing mentioning of this weekend’s happenings. No, it’s not Halloween which is tonight; neither is it the fact that today has been a long day because of the cessation of daylight saving time. It is the visit to London’s Imperial War Museum.

Whatever be your stand on war, this museum is not to be ignored. It neither glorifies war nor condemns it. That’s for you to decide. It simply presents the facts in very interesting ways. It is a multi-sensory experience. See the might of German rockets or British Spitfires hanging from the ceiling. Walk through a Halifax fuselage. Smell the soil of the land or the stench of narrow trenches as you walk through one. Hear the movement of tanks, celebration of victory or the cries of separation.

The highlight of the visit was hearing true accounts from four war veterans, all from World War II. Three from the army had taken part in D-Day. The youngest one, now aged 82, had taken part in the Peenemunde air raid of August 1943. In his own words, if not for this raid, “the damage to Britain would have been infinitely worse”. The last veteran, Alan, was from the RAF. His Halifax had been shot down after being caught in a searchlight cone in Berlin. He had a free fall with his parachute but only for two seconds before hitting the high branches of a tree, about 80 feet from the ground. By the time he was on the ground German soldiers were ready to take him prisoner. He was also one of the men in the Great Escape. Those who had escaped and soon recaptured were handed over to the Gestapo and shot. Alan was spared just because he had been still in the queue. He knew every soldier who had been shot.

These men returned home to find a different world. Many never returned. All are unsung heroes but they do not want a song. All they want is peace for future generations. They have performed their duty well and continue to do so by educating the public against war and its lasting effects on individuals and families. To quote Churchill, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

War is not glory. It is bloodshed and death. The message of these veterans to future generations is to avoid war. It becomes inevitable only when you have to defend what is yours. Freedom is not to be taken for granted. One has to fight for it when there are no peaceful means of resolution. War is an ugly reality now and for the future. As Plato put it in the 5th century BC, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”.




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