I leave it to Alan Moorehead, who followed the armies around the world for ten campaigns in the last war, to sum it up for me:
"Five years of watching war have made me personally loathe war, especially the childish wastage of it. But this thing - the brief ennoblement inside himself of the otherwise dreary and materialistic man - kept recurring, again and again, up to the very end, and it refreshed and lighted the whole sordid story.
The point perhaps is a little over-mystical, a little intangible. Yet there it is. Whatever material hardship and monotony lie ahead, the soldier will remember that he made his ultimate gesture, that he did something quite selfless to justify his history, himself and his children. He was, for a moment in time, a complete man. If there was one lesson we learned in France and the other occupied countries it was this: it never pays to capitulate. As long as there are things like Belsen Camp you must go on protesting. You must protest.
We were indignant. We protested. We won. All mankind advances. And this will be a matter of some lasting strength to those who fought. This, in the end, I saw, was the thing I was seeking: the explanation of the war. It was the thought in the mind of the Jugoslav who, knowing he was about to die, wrote to his unborn son:
My child, sleeping now in the dark and gathering strength for the struggle of birth, I wish you well. At present you have no proper shape, and you do not breathe, and you are blind. Yet when your time comes, your time and the time of your mother, whom I deeply love, there will be something in you that will give you power to fight for air and light. Such is your heritage, such is your destiny as a child born of woman - to fight for light and hold on, without knowing why ...Harry Patch displayed a true nobility and a wisdom that outshines and shames all the grasping, lying, avaricious toads-in-ermine created by and for the political class, whose deceit and corruption fills yet more pages in our Sunday papers. The contrast could not be greater between this simple, gentle man and the vain foetid puffery of 'Lord' Mandelson and his corrupt cabal who would lie, cheat and worse to send men like Harry Patch to war.
Keep your love of life but throw away your fear of death. Life must be loved or it is lost, but it should never be loved too well.
Keep your heart hungry for new knowledge, keep your hatred of a lie, and keep your power of indignation.
Now I know I must die, and you must be born to stand upon the rubbish-heap of my errors. Forgive me for this; I am ashamed to leave you an untidy, uncomfortable world. But so it must be.
In thought, as a last benediction, I kiss your forehead. Good-night to you, and a good morning and a clear dawn."
Let us keep our hatred of a lie, and let us keep our power of indignation. We must keep protesting. We must never capitulate.