To mark the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion, Aled Jones meets the veteran who has waited a lifetime for a memorial to his fallen comrades.
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We're in Colchester in Essex for Songs Of Praise
on this important Sunday.
Its history as a garrison town dates back to the Romans
and it's been a major army base since the Napoleonic Wars.
Today it's home to around 3,500 soldiers.
Their dedication to duty,
their courage in the face of danger and their loyalty to their country
is shared not only by those who serve today,
but also by the generations of men and women
who've been prepared to lay down their lives for us.
Today, we remember all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
On this Remembrance Sunday, we'll be marking
the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion.
We'll be meeting the veteran who's waited 65 years
to pay tribute to his fallen comrades.
And the young war widow whose faith is helping her face the future.
Arms high. Squeeze your knees.
Let's get those feet together, get those knees together.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of British troops in Afghanistan.
These soldiers are the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment,
part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, based here in Colchester.
Arms up high. Feet together. Squeeze your toes, toes up. Good.
The brigade has completed four tours of duty in Afghanistan -
the most any unit has carried out.
Having just recently returned,
they know only too well the human cost of war.
I'll be speaking to some of them later.
For our hymn singing today, we've gathered at St Botolph's Church.
In the congregation are those who've served their country in the past,
those who serve today and those who may well serve in the future.
Accompanying our singing, I'm delighted to say
we have members of the Band of the Parachute Regiment.
In World War II, the vital task of bombing Germany fell to the RAF,
the brave young men of Bomber Command.
The only way we could attack the Third Reich after Dunkirk
was in the air.
So Bomber Command was set that duty,
to attack the German industrial estate
and the morale of the German people.
And that continued out throughout the war.
Douglas Radcliffe signed up when he was 17 years old.
You didn't have to fly.
You weren't conscripted to get in that aircraft
and go on an operation - you volunteered for it.
And the whole crew...you joined a crew and that was it.
You were comfortable with that crew.
Bomber Command lost 55,573 men.
Their average age was just 22.
My faith in God helped me during the war and it helps me today.
It's constant. I can't explain it. I really don't have to explain it.
I don't think anybody really needs to explain that. It's there.
I think it's there for a lot of people who don't even think about that.
Well, two members of my first crew are buried in Germany.
I have never visited them and I won't visit them.
I just don't think I should,
I couldn't do that, I don't wish to do it.
Although it sustained heavy losses,
Bomber Command has never had its own permanent memorial.
Now, more than 65 years later,
Douglas has been working with architect Liam O'Connor.
Marvellous. Very proud to be part of it, really am.
I think you've done a marvellous job
and I particularly like the sculptor looking into the open sky.
It's a crucial part of the architectural concept
-that the roof is open immediately above the sculpture.
Finally, a memorial is being built,
and is due to be unveiled in June next year.
To think that, after all these years, we are now going to see
the memorial in Green Park,
in the best part of London.
It's everything. It means everything, not just to me,
but to the tens of thousands of people who've supported it,
and certainly the veterans who are approaching the end of their lives
hopefully will see that memorial go up to their comrades.
Kate Whittaker is a member of the Band of the Parachute Regiment,
which is based here in Colchester.
The band are all trained soldiers and musicians.
On the brigade's recent tour of duty,
they went out to Afghanistan to entertain the troops.
We get off a helicopter and turn up and go,
"Right, we're the Para Band, we're doing a gig."
It took a lot of people by surprise, especially when they were told
Paras were coming and then found out they'd got a band instead.
She was following in her brother's footsteps.
Joe Whittaker had been to Afghanistan
as a soldier in the Parachute Regiment.
Joe got a scholarship to go to Sandhurst,
but for him, I think he felt that, to lead others,
he really needed to be in their shoes first.
He didn't feel he could send somebody out to put their life on the line
if he'd not gone through the same experience himself.
I was so aware of how important it was for Joe, being a Para,
and what they go through to get their beret, and he was so proud of that.
Joe was killed in an explosion when he was out on patrol.
I couldn't really believe that it was actually true.
And it was just shock and not being able to do anything.
Just feeling completely helpless, really.
When Joe died, I had a really strong feeling
that I wanted to contribute something to the funeral.
And so I wrote a song for Joe.
His friends built a cross.
While I was there, I had the opportunity to go and see it.
And I was completely blown away. There were about
12 or so crosses, and a lot of them had loads of names on them.
And Joe's was kind of in the middle
and there was just his name on this plaque.
It was just fantastic to be able to go and see it.
To be able to stand in front of the band and say to people,
"This is my brother, he was brilliant, he was fantastic
"and I'm going to show you what he was like," that for me is a really great thing.
I think it's important to have faith, and if I didn't,
then everything would be a lot worse to deal with.
It's that sort of reassurance that Joe is still there in some respect
and, you know, not in pain, and not suffering.
You know, that for me, is such a comfort.
# O brother man Fold to thy heart thy brother
# Where pity dwells The peace of God is there
# To worship rightly is to love each other
# Each smile a hymn Each kindly deed a prayer
# For he whom Jesus loved has truly spoken
# The holier worship which he deigns to bless
# Restores the lost and binds the spirit broken
# And feeds the widow and the fatherless
# Follow with reverent steps the great example
# Of him whose holy work was doing good
# So shall the wide earth seem our Father's temple
# Each loving life a psalm of gratitude
# Then shall all shackles fall the stormy clangour
# Of wild war music o'er the earth shall cease
# Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger
# And in its ashes plant the tree of peace. #
It was back in April
when 16 Air Assault Brigade came home from Afghanistan.
In the six months that they were out there, they lost 22 men.
How important is it for you guys to have a memorial garden like this one we're standing in?
It's very important for us.
Every year, at this time of the year, we all get together
and gather in places like this and say prayers for our fallen.
Do you ever think of your own mortality?
Generally, you go out and the expectancy is not
that you're going to be one of the people who ends up being fallen.
Um, it makes you take a step back and look at what your job is,
For most people, the idea of going out to Afghanistan during wartime would be hell on earth.
Is it the same for you?
Yeah, it is horrible when you go there.
The height of summer and winter are the worst conditions.
The amount of kit the blokes carry, over 100lb of kit,
-they're suffering all the time.
-A lot of people would say,
"Where you find war, you obviously don't find God."
-What do you say to that?
-I pity those without faith
because, for myself, when times get really difficult,
I know I can turn to God to give me inner strength.
I hope that he never puts me in a situation
I wouldn't be able to handle, rather than giving me protection.
Yeah, so I thrive off the knowledge that he's there to support me.
When you see your fellow soldiers fall, do you ever think to yourself,
"Why is God letting this happen?"
No. It's not God's fault. He can't protect everyone,
if you want to look at it like that. He can't look after everyone.
I never pray for God to protect me.
I pray that God guides me to do his will in a moral way.
I also pray that he protects my muckers.
Don't mourn the fallen, just thank God that such men existed. And I do.
Remembrance Sunday is probably the most important day of the year.
Has been since the end of World War I.
For 90 years, the Royal British Legion has been the custodian of remembrance.
It was formed to help veterans of the Great War
who were left injured and unable to work.
In 1921, they launched the Poppy Appeal
to raise money for servicemen and women and their families.
They're still supporting people today,
fundraising in increasingly dramatic ways.
The Royal British Legion remains an important organisation
for many of those who have served in past conflicts.
And to mark their anniversary, we sing a hymn
that was written especially for them.
The Royal British Legion has been a help and support to Kirianne Curley.
I know they're always by my side.
Their slogan is "Shoulder to shoulder with those who serve".
Well, very much so. I've always felt that they've stood by me.
Her husband, Stephen, was killed in Afghanistan.
Stephen left when William Arthur was eight weeks old.
So we didn't have a huge amount of time together.
William Arthur was very young when Stephen deployed.
I was very much in limbo.
It was kind of a blip before we could start our family life together.
I'd been praying for Stephen and for his protection the whole time he was out there.
It was something I did every day.
And the day he was killed, I prayed a lot more than I ever have before.
Believing in God and having prayed for Stephen's protection,
and then Stephen being killed, made me
really struggle with the concept of God answering our prayers.
'However, it hasn't stopped me having a faith.'
'There's a common misconception that having a child makes this situation easier.
'It actually makes it a lot harder.'
I think people are very shocked when they find out that I am a war widow.
This is what one looks like.
There's a lot of us knocking about who are young,
often with young children.
When my son grows up and he asks me, "Why did Daddy die in a warzone?"
I'll tell him that Stephen went out there knowing what he was doing.
He was a hugely experienced soldier.
I'll let William Arthur know that his dad went out there to do a job
and he believed in the good of what he was doing.
And that's what gives me comfort, and I hope it will give him comfort as well.
# Back when I was a child
# Before life removed all the innocence
# My father would lift me high
# And dance with my mother and me And then
# Spin me around till I fell asleep
# Then up the stairs he would carry me
# And I knew for sure I was loved
# If I could steal one final glance
# One final step
# One final dance with him
# I'd play a song that would never, never end
# Cos I'd love, love, love
# To dance with my father again
# Sometimes I'd listen outside her door
# And I'd hear how Mama would cry for him
# I'd pray for her even more than me
# I'd pray for her even more than me
# I know I'm praying for much too much
# But could you send back the only man she loved
# I know you don't do it usually
# But, dear Lord, she's dying
# To dance with my father again
# And every night I fall asleep
# This is all I ever dream. #
They shall grow not old As we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun And in the morning
We will remember them.
We will remember them.
When you go home Tell them of us and say,
"For your tomorrow We gave our today."
TRUMPETER PLAYS "LAST POST"
My brothers and sisters, may the road rise with you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the rain fall softly upon your fields.
And until we meet again, may God keep you safe in the hollow of his hands.
And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
be upon you and remain with you always.
And on the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion, and the first Poppy Appeal,
we give thanks to all those who have made sacrifices
in conflicts both past and present.
And we remember all those who laid down their lives for our freedom.
Next week, Eamonn Holmes returns to his home, the city of Belfast,
and the parish church of St Thomas,
where he'll be exploring the theme of doubt to belief.
He also visits an enclosed order of Poor Clare nuns.
And there's music from the choristers
of St Peter's Cathedral, Schola Cantorum.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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To mark the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion and the first ever poppy appeal, Aled Jones visits the garrison town of Colchester, to meet the veteran who has waited a lifetime for a memorial to his fallen comrades. He also hears from soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan.