Friday, 23 September 2011

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

I've learned a lot about the sort of bravery Thucydides refers to in my work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission this week. It's left me, yet again, feeling humbled and very fortunate to have such a fascinating and rewarding job.

I've been researching the stories of soldiers from the Indian Army who were awarded the Victoria Cross in the Second World War. This is for a website which honours the contribution of undivided (pre-partition) India in both world wars.
Sher Bahadur Thapa, 1/9th Gurkhas, Italy 1944
For two hours, in the open, Sher Bahadur Thapa held back the enemy so his platoon could retreat in comparitive safety. Then, in full view of the enemy, he rescued two wounded comrades.

I've been working for the CWGC for eight years now. There is always the possibility, I suppose, that I could become inured to the horrors of war, the sacrifice, the selfless courage of so many, writing about it as I do on an almost daily basis.

I haven't. How could I?

Sher Bahadur Thapa died in a hail of bullets when he had carried out his second rescue. He was twenty three years old.

 The word 'hero' has been so badly devalued over time. Wayne Rooney is a hero because he scores a goal for the England football team? Please.

I know who my heroes are. No matter for whom they fought. I'm only writing about thirty or so exceptional human beings. There are countless millions more whose bravery will go unrecorded.

Just so you know, I'm a pacifist. International Peace Day was on Wednesday. To write about Sher Bahadur Thapa isn't to glorify war. Neither is remembering him. It's honouring the sort of personal courage and self-sacrifice that allows others to live.