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We Are Wellington | We remember

10 November 2017
Every year, on the 11th of November, or the Sunday nearest to it, the UK marks Remembrance Sunday. On this day, we remember those who have died in conflicts over the last 100 years. We don’t celebrate remembrance. We remember. As a historian, this is a strange word to use in this unique situation. We can’t remember. We don’t have those memories of war, pain, and violent struggle. We have the memories of others to guide us instead. We have a collective pain that ripples like so many thrown stones into our wider pond. The cataclysmic conflicts experienced by our forebears, and sadly many of those we love and cherish today, are part of us and we remain connected to them through our remembrance. We exist today in a world that has been shaped in part by conflict. Whether you consider the horror of the Great War of 1914-1918, the war against Fascism between 1939-1945, the war against Japanese aggression from 1937-1945, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first and second Gulf Wars or the numerous other conflicts across the world during the last 100 years, we are indebted to those who fought and gave their lives so we might live in peace. This is not a figurative statement; there is a direct correlation between the actions of our ancestors and the state of the world we currently live in. As historians, we are painfully aware that things can, as the Americans so eloquently put it, ‘turn on a dime’.  I am alive today because of the chances to live given to my parents, grandparents and great grandparents. If not for the kindness of a family in the Sussex countryside, my maternal grandmother would have been in London when her home was destroyed during the Blitz. If not for the sacrifice of millions of Russian men and women who fought the Nazis to a standstill, my mother’s father would have been caught up in a prolonged war and quite possibly killed. There are innumerable actions, both great and small, carried out by servicemen and women across the last hundred years that allow us to be right here, right now, reading this article, contemplating our freedoms and the very fact we exist at all. Servicemen and women save lives. But more than that, their sacrifices and actions form the basis of the world in which we live, provide us the freedoms that we enjoy and give us the possibility of a future where, in the darkest hours of conflict, none had existed. Despite all of this, we do not celebrate. War is never something to be celebrated, as victory in any war will ring hollow if even one life has been destroyed. Those who go away to war never return home. The people who survive come back changed, having lost at least part of themselves to the conflict. Life, innocence, hope, compassion and happiness, they are all sacrificed on the battlefield. Wellington College in England was formed to provide an education for the sons of soldiers killed in war. At Wellington College International in Shanghai, with pupils drawn together from more than 40 different countries, it is essential that we remember the awful realities of war and the sacrifices of those whose duty it is to take part in it. By doing so, we can encourage the formation of bonds of international friendship and understanding that will make war less likely. We remember those who fought so that we didn’t have to. We remember those who died so that we might live. We remember so we can, step by step, inch by inch, fully understand the futility of war and move towards a world where it no longer exists.   Barry Cooper Head of History