Last week a number of graves belonging to First World War veterans were damaged in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The motive for the attack is being ascribed to mere thuggish vandalism. But perhaps the answer is somewhat more disturbing.
The attack could have been orchestrated by rogue elements of the “republican” struggle against the continuing unification of Ulster and Great Britain. However a seemingly callous, yet brutally simplistic attack, throws up other questions. How did the people involved think that they were not in some way connected to the men lying in the ground beneath them. As they hacked away with sledgehammers and pickaxes they were hopefully oblivious to the sheer scale of the conflict that began almost a century ago.
The simple fact is that given the participation level of Ulster in the war (in the Inniskillings, the Ulster Division and other units), most people in Ulster have some connection to the conflict. A great grandfather/granduncle, distant family cousin, a grandmother volunteer nurse, all real possibilities. Even those who are assured of their rebel pedigree, the great Tom Barry IRA Commander was once a soldier in Messoptamia (Iraq). Followers of this blog will know that my own great granduncle was a soldier with the Munster Fusiliers, was killed in action and written out of history for decades.
So when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission offers to educate the vandals I sincerely hope they take up the offer and pray that they can live with the fact that they may have desecrated their ancestors’ memories.
Lest we (all) forget.