I watched Alicia Vikander in The Testament of Youth on a flight to Singapore.

The movie based on an actual account of the Great War or the First World War, was not only a touching piece of work but one that so poignantly brought to life the heart wrenching tragedy it truly was. Told through the eyes of Vera Brittain, a young and a spirited woman who fought for the opportunity to study at Oxford and then gave it up to serve as a nurse on the war front, it touches the rawness of a war in which Britain lost the prime of her youth. Vera loses the love of her life and her brother – you share her agony, her pain throughout the movie as she emerges tainted by it all but spurred on. Some of the most poignant moments was when as a nurse, Vera discovers her brother among the corpses of dying men and screaming, nurses him back to health only to see him lose his life at Somme. Then there’s Vera treating an injured German soldier and realizing that British or German, blood flows thick when wounded.

Of course, the movie was based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain and tells the story so brilliantly well. The memory of the movie was refreshed today, as the world – led by Britain, went sombre in commemorating the sacrifice of young men on the fields of Flanders in what was called one of the worst battles of the Great War.

Amidst the hundreds of emotion packed and newly colourised images of the war and the untold casualties it unleashed, circulating on line, there were images of troops from England, Canada and the Commonwealth who, in the heady and emotional rush of volunteering for the greater cause of ‘saving the world’ , gave their lives without hesitation. Those were the days before opinions on wars were cynical and hopeless. They believed in serving and sacrificing – concepts that might somewhat be misplaced in today’s context.

The Great War was indeed gory – as wave after wave of men, whether from Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Canada or the Commonwealth including India and Sri Lanka, Ceylon at the time, perished and their blood soaked the muddy fields of Somme, Ypres, Flanders and elsewhere ; they left behind families that grieved and mourned. There were women whose hearts were crushed and children who never saw the fathers. Just like in any war since then but somehow, more brutal and more profound because that was also the last war in which men went forth to fight hand to hand, reminiscent of the ancient battles.

There was something about World War I that was missing in later wars. This was the last war in which people went to fight with old fashioned values intact. Of course, heroism, defending one’s country and heritage, standing up for values one believes in are all sound principles that many may not think twice about bearing arms for. But they certainly are not the driving seat factors they once were.

Look around and see what occupies the world’s attention. Using bathrooms based on gender identities, giving priority to my current flavour of feeling – irrespective of the consequences of it, going to absurd lengths to make sure we are politically correct – there was even a story in media about a school in America calling police over a remark a nine year old innocently made about a brownie. Another dose of insanity was a girl’s school in the UK not wanting to call itself a girls’ school for fear of offending gender neutrals.

The generation that fought in the Great War  would not only have been appalled at the going ons of today – it would have been so out of place in their mind set. They would be shocked to see how far selfishness has travelled and how much it has impacted our souls. The feel good sensation pursued so relentlessly would not have made any sense to them. They were not politically correct and didn’t think of the need to be – not that they were out of place – they may have lived through a strong class system but they had values and principles too precious to have been sullied by the depthless issues of today.

Today and tomorrow, next year and the year after, as the world remembers the wave upon wave of young men, their gallantry unquestioned, chose to ‘go over’ and be mowed down in enemy fire, we will also remember that like in all wars, someone else drove the agenda that saw someone else sacrificed. In those days, kings led their troops to battle and indeed in the Great War, Russian Tsar Nicholas II was with his troops at the front ( the war, they say with its millions of Russian casualties, was one of the reasons the Tsar lost it all ) but later, as Generals got far and far away from the battle field, the camaraderie was all but on paper.

During the last hundred years, we have seen young men perish for want of a better world – they perished in the Second World War, The Vietnam War, The Korean War, The Six Day War, The Civil War fought between Sri Lankan troops and the most dreaded terrorist outfit of the world, the LTTE and many other conflicts. We like to think we have learnt our lessons about the senselessness of sending the boys out to war.

Violets from Plug Street wood,
Sweet, I send you from oversea.
It is strange they should be blue,
Blue, when his soaked blood was red..

 

 

 

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