Some things are easier to forget, if you have not been personally involved. They can take on the aspect of a story, gripping, even terrifying, but forgettable. Some things help us to remember, and to ensure that great events, great sacrifices and great tragedies are not forgotten completely. There is an inscription at the Military History Museum in Saxonwold that reads:
When you go home one day
Tell them of us and say,
That for your tomorrow
We gave our today.
Moving words on behalf of those who will never come home again.
Weapons of war can have a strange beauty and appeal to them, which sometimes belies their destructive power and intent. The Spitfire is a plane of such graceful lines, seemingly made to soar amongst the clouds and the high blue sky. The Focke-Wulf is a pugnacious powerhouse, whilst the Messerschmidt, that crash-landed is a Sussex field, seems too small to have been involved in mighty conflict. Its descendent jet, on the other hand, looks hooded and viperish. The elegant Mosquito bomber, the Hurricane and a number of bi-planes, testify to the creative power of need.
The Museum mainly details the Anglo-Boer Wars and the two World Wars, and provides fascinating insights into the people and events, as well as the weaponry involved. It could be a little boy’s dream – of any age – to wander through the planes, field guns and tanks, to look at the rifles, bayonets and automatic weaponry, to stare at the uniforms and equipment, the medals and photographs, to read the accounts, laugh at the humour and pause before the poignant dedication to the unknown soldier. South Africans played an important role in the two great wars.
Unexpectedly, I came face to face with a different display. It contained photographs of smiling young men in strange uniforms, many with wives and children, or girlfriends. They looked happy and normal. But, as I looked on, I found that these were some of the 4254 men of Katyn – amongst the victims of the authorised murder of over 21 000 Polish military officers, policemen, intellectuals and civilian prisoners of war by the Soviets in 1940. It took place in the Katyn forest, and at other centres. Apparently one executioner personally shot 6,000 of those condemned to death over a period of 28 days in April 1940. They were buried, in layers, in mass graves.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.(A. E. Housman)
For all the high drama, the courage and camaraderie, the creativity and the sacrifice, war is ultimately about loss. Some rounded figures for total deaths – each one very precious:
Anglo Boer War: 75 000
World War 1: 16 million
World War 2: 62-78 million
Of course, this does not take into account the brutalised lives of individuals, communities and nations.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. (Laurence Binyon)
We can, however, choose to be grateful to those who gave their today for our tomorrows.
We can make it worthwhile.
We can live for peace with the same high courage as the many who died for it.
Cost: Adults R22; Pensioners R11; Children R11;
Hours: 09h00 to 16h30
For further information follow the links alongside.