I went to the service at St Paul’s in my Ward yesterday afternoon commemorating the UK’s entry into the First World War, alongside a goodly crowd including the Mayor, Justine Greening and Councillor Sue McKinney. It was a wonderful event, a moving mixture of readings, hymns, addresses and as the tailpiece a gathering by the war memorial, where a rose was left for each of the 35 men from the parish who died during the conflict. Four members of the Chandler family perished, which brought home for me the enormity of the suffering. The Bishop of Southwark told us about his grandfather, who committed suicide during the Second World War having never recovered from his experiences during the First.
The rose I lay was for Second Lieutenant Leopold Marlow of the King’s Royal Rifle Regiment, who died in 1917 aged 21. All I can find about him was that he was promoted in 1916 to acting Lieutenant. So I have no idea what he was like, what his dreams and hopes were, what he found funny or touching, or whether anyone still mourns him. Yet for a brief moment I felt a contact with this stranger who gave his life for something he believed in (or did he believe in it?).
I suspect that it is very rare in war for one side to be the ‘goodies’ and one the ‘baddies’. Maybe World War II was the closest to an exception that we have seen, though fighting alongside Stalin must have been difficult. But the rights and wrongs of a particular conflict do not detract from the bravery shown by those who fight for a belief.