The Human Cost of War

Saturday 1425 –  6th April 2013

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This post is rather different to the fun of last weeks “Roll Up, Roll Up.. It’s Time for the Circus” which you can read here

_796For some time now I have been planning to visit the WW2 US Military Cemetery at Madingley, which is just outside Cambridge, principally  to take photographs.  I was waiting for the right weather and this Saturday I got it. The photographs tell their own story but my purpose, as ever where war is concerned, is to highlight the terrible cost in human terms.

Harry Patch, who died a couple of years ago at the age of 111 was the last surviving British soldier of the 1st World war and he said “politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder”. His words sum up what I feel about war and apply equally to World War 2 as they do to subsequent wars. 

The Cemetery is a beautifully kept, ironically peaceful place and surrounded by lovely countryside. I noted it was full of birds singing when I was there; heralding spring but not, of course, for those buried here.

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There are 4 figures on the Great Mall wall to represent the 4 services:a soldier, a sailor, an airman and a coast guard.

“Tablets Of the Missing stretch a total of four hundred and seventy two feet in length and contain the details of five thousand one hundred and twenty six missing in action, lost or buried at sea in addition to those who gave their lives but could not be positively identified. Every State of the Union is represented on the tablets and include names of three thousand five hundred and twenty four United States Air Force and Army Air Force Personnel, one thousand three hundred and seventy one Naval personnel, two hundred and one Coast Guard personnel and thirty United States Marine Corps personnel.”_798

Along the top of the wall is the following inscription:

THE AMERICANS WHOSE NAMES HERE APPEAR WERE PART OF THE PRICE THAT FREE MEN FOR THE SECOND TIME IN THIS CENTURY HAVE BEEN FORCED TO PAY TO DEFEND HUMAN LIBERTY AND RIGHTS ALL WHO SHALL HEREAFTER LIVE IN FREEDOM WILL BE HERE REMINDED THAT TO THESE MEN AND THEIR COMRADES WE OWE A DEBT TO BE PAID WITH GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF THEIR SACRIFICE AND THE HIGH RESOLVE THAT THE CAUSE FOR WHICH THEY DIED SHALL LIVE ETERNALLY.

Forced to pay by those who seek war for their own selfish ends with scant regard to all the young people who were persuaded that fighting was the only way to guarantee freedom?  Can you defend human liberty by taking someone else’s? Can taking a life ever be right?  Ever?

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The Memorial Building.

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I picked the cross above entirely at random; it’s the cross of Alton G Speakman who died on May 23rd 1944.

I wonder what his story was? 

For sure he was someone’s son and maybe a husband and father too.  Or he might never have known the joys of intimate love.

He would have had friends who also mourned his death or maybe who died with him. I wonder if he played a musical instrument, liked books, or sport. Maybe he liked to go fishing or play baseball.  

He never got to do any of those things after 1944. I wonder why he joined up?  Did he feel an obligation? Was he scared?

I have deliberately added all those questions to make you think but I have done a little research into this man in the Army enlistment records . He was born on the 4th July 1912, completed 1 year at high school, his occupation on enlisting on 2nd November 1942 to the Air Corp was listed as “unskilled machine shop and related occupations”. His enlistment was “for the duration of the war or other emergency plus 6 months subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law ”  He became a Sergeant, serving with the 423rd BS, 306th Bomb Group.

He was married and lived in Richmond County, Ohio.  He was 31 when he died.

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Whatever I, or you, might think about war I am certain that this man’s death and the death of all the other servicemen buried in this cemetery will likely have produced terrible grief that will have lasted lifetimes. 

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948), “Non-Violence in Peace and War”

I say NO to more War and NO to the tragedy of one more life taken.  Each life is one too many.

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Remember what Harry Patch said at the beginning of this piece “politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder”.  The very same applies today, those who orchestrate war and make money from it are never those who do the dying; that’s left to people like Alton G Speakman.

Further readinghttp://www.madingleyamericancemetery.info/index.html

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Saturday Girl signing off now. I wonder what next Saturday will bring.  See you then.

You can find my photography blog Photomania here and I hope you’ll pop over and take a look if you haven’t already.. photos of Mallorca , continuing London People and a new minimalism series also in the pipeline to say nothing of a portrait of an allotment to come eventually!

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14 comments on “The Human Cost of War

  1. Ann Surella says:

    This site was sent to me by my cousin; utterly surprised!!! Alton Speakman was 1 of 8 children (4 boys/4 girls). He was killed in a mission over Berlin late in May. He was a top turret gunner and was flying his 40th mission; the last mission before he was scheduled to go to London for a rest. He left behind a wife and two sons. It was years before the family knew the true location of his burial. Yes each cross represents a story – thank you so much for capturing this particular cross.

    • Helen Cherry says:

      Ann, I was deeply moved by your comment, especially coming so long after I wrote this post.. May I ask what relation he was to you, as you do not make it clear in your comment?

      • Ann Surella says:

        Alton Speakman was my uncle, on my mother’s side. All of the siblings are gone now but thanks to my wonderful mother who put together the family tree and ‘their’ history I have the treasured book of memories. Thank you Helen for your comments.

  2. darkling eye says:

    passionate & eloquent words. J

  3. Adrian Lewis says:

    Yes, I echo your thoughts, Helen, but I have no hope that wars will stop – aggression seems even more widespread now than formerly.

    Two things to mention. Your photo of Alton G Speakman’s grave is superb. And of course Harry Patch was local to me, living in Wells – I pass his final home on each trip out to the Somerset Levels. A man of vast humility. Adrian

  4. Beautifully done, thank you. We have far to many of these graves in far to many states and nations. We brutalize our young with war and call it Glory, call it Duty, call it anything other than what it is. I am with Harry Patch, give the war mongers guns and let them fight it out or better yet, give their children guns and let their children fight it out. This would quickly put an end to war.

  5. scillagrace says:

    Interesting shadows on the crosses lined up in the last shot…looks like CGI (computer graphics), like the simulation machines in the techno museum where I now work…which makes me think of the separation of reality from the machinery of war. Symbols of human lives, not actual human lives, gives but distant recognition of the cost to humanity. Words etched in stone seem more resilient than warm tears. Are our memorials congruent to our memories?

    • Helen Cherry says:

      and that last shot is just cropped otherwise it’s as it was.. I think that effect is produced because the crosses are marbel Scilla.. It’s a difficult one Scilla because do memorials like this actually serve to glorify war in some way?? As in – you’re a hero if you go to war?

  6. […] I have written about this on my 1500 Saturday blog in a post called The Human Cost of War which you can read here […]

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