90 Years – Observed from the Orient

Nov 11th, 2008 | By | Category: Scuttlebutt

Today, for the first time in several years, I watched the BBC World transmission of the Armistice Day Remembrance at The Cenotaph in London.  Having not watched it for so long, it invoked several disparate feelings.

Amongst the strongest were a sense of homesickness and patriotism.

Homesickness may be a strange emotion to come from watching these ceremonies. Yet, consider that the Remembrance is also a celebration of the military tradition of defence of the nation and that I spent nine years in uniform, which is almost as long as since the last time I stood on British soil.

It may also be understood from the camaraderie and feelings of belonging together that all servicemen and women experience.  Thus it is, that when observing massed uniforms of my home country, I have a desire to be part of the group again.  Whether that triggers homesickness, or just a yearning to be amongst old comrades again, is moot when living so far from home.

From that, it is obvious why patriotism surfaces.  However much service personnel may bemoan ceremonial and parade duties, there is a peculiar pride and desire to be the best, that emerges when participating.  Again, this comes from the military tradition.  The ingraining of the history of each service unit, into its current personnel, breeds a determination to prove oneself worthy of former members who laid down their lives, building both, the culture and traditions, and the unity, of the unit.

Watching the three last surviving British veterans of World War One, the Great War, The War to end all wars, made me feel both proud and humble this evening (we are seven hours ahead of the UK).  The applause as they were escorted to Downing Street raised a tear to my eye – a tear of joy at the public recognition of them, and a tear of sadness that they are the last of our heroes from the bloodiest war of all time.

I have heard it said that the Remembrance Commemoration should be discontinued.  If that were to happen, I fear that politicians everywhere would be much hastier to commit their nations to war with neighbours.  The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is a sobering moment that I am sure causes many a civilian leader pause when they are not getting what they desire.  The annual remembering of the death toll may be one of the most effective checks against another global conflict.  I believe it also serves to teach current military personnel the need to preserve peace in a way that no military college ever could.

It is possible that I may be the last Harbottle of my direct family line to have worn military uniform, as neither my sister nor any of my cousins chose to do so.  It is saddening that a family history of over nine centuries, with someone from every generation serving the crown, appears to be coming to an end.  Perhaps the patriotism and Royalist loyalty in my bloodline ends with me?  Perhaps not.

There is time for this to change – both of my teenage daughters are just at the age of average recruitment, and economic crisis is traditionally a time of high volunteer numbers for military service.  Perhaps just as I reach retirement age, my now one-year-old son, will continue the tradition with a stint in uniform?  However, I fear if it is my son who takes up the mantle, he may be forced to wear the uniform of a different kingdom, as he was born here in Thailand … unless that homesickness returns too often and I decide to repatriate with my new family.  By birth he already has eligibility for British nationality, and thus to enter the British Armed Forces.

For that to happen, I suspect wargaming will need to capture his attention as soon as he’s old enough, and from that he may develop an interest in the military tradition, and thus volunteer for crown and country.  If he does, I will pray he enjoys the same peacetime service that I was fortunate enough to experience.  I may have been the first in our family to have had that luck, and wish all serving personnel could enjoy the same.


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  1. Hello Garry

    I was very interested to read the article
    I have to say that, and I am sorry to say this, but the country you served and the society that you, and those that gave so much more, protected is all but vanished.
    There are few links to the generations of men and women, civilian and military who strove together and suffered so that those who came after could be free.
    As a Londoner I am depressed when I look around and see what our society has become.
    Patriotism may be an excellent quality, but I think that the pride you feel may not survive long should you return to these shores.
    I hope things may change, but with every day’s news, such as the recent horrific abuse case of “BABY P”
    I can only see our society further disintegrating.
    You are well out of it as far as I am concerned, and I can only hope to be able to join you someday.


  2. Hi Barry

    I hear a lot of similar sentiments from tourists on holiday out here, I also hear many more (as a percentage) expressing a wish to live here permanently. Unfortunately, expatriating to Thailand is not for the unprepared – far too many end up returning home penniless within 18 months of arrival. If you’re financially self-reliant, then it’s a great place to be, but if you have work, or start a business, to survive it can be very harsh.

    I’ve seen a few people mention “Baby P” online but have no idea what the story or background is – I must find some time to do some digging on that.


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