I would like to dedicate this letter to all the East Asian and British East Asians who were part of the Great War. And all East Asians and British East Asians who died fighting as allies in the World War II.
Dear Unknown Solider,
At the start of a letter I’d usually say something along the lines of, ‘I hope you are well’ or ‘it’s been a long time since we saw or talked to each other’ but on this occasion that wouldn’t be right or fitting.
So . . .
To the Unknown Soldier, from an Unknown Daughter. I feel that I know you and that you know me. We’re both “unknown.” I’d like to thank you. Your actions indirectly lead me to where I am today. Allowed me to be who I am and what I am. It was perhaps a long and rambling route but one that afforded me life. It’s been a double-edged sword, but the positive edge out weighs the negative side of the blade.
I had an elderly uncle who’d seen the horrors of the Great War. He ran away, he lied about his age so he could enlist. He was a bugle boy on the field at Flanders or was it Passiondale? He was gassed. One of the few that survived. The mustard gas trapped his teenaged voice so he permanently had a smoky trembling counter-tenner tone. When I met him he was very old and I was very young. War was a school subject confined by the boundaries of a school text-book. Unpeeled and unmasked by Owen, Sasson and Graves. Remembered annually through the act of buying and wearing a poppy and of a minute’s silence on the eleventh day, at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh month. Another uncle that I never met was one of the “first of the few” his name etched into a monument for those missing in action. Fast forward and years later I lost a cousin in a modern war. He’d only just been deployed on his first tour. He was blown to smithereens. I’m grateful that I have never had to experience conflict in a theatre of war.
But the war that gave birth to me was one of the mind, society, economics and race. The freedoms that you sacrificed your life for were hard-won, but now one hundred years on we fight another war. A war that inadvertently gave birth to me. A war that seems to have no end. A war for hearts and minds. A war that can be waged across borders, across cultures, races, ideologies and religions, even across time. It is not tanks, buzz bombs, hand-grenades or mustard gas that are the weapons of this war. Though you’ll be saddened to hear that conflict still rages on in parts of the world and they still use guns and bombs. Occasionally one country assumes that their rights are greater than those of their neighbours. So they march their troupes across borders. But the war that rages on, its fires all consuming, all encompassing, its destruction as devastating as any Mills bomb. It is almost imperceptible and invisible but it is global. The War to end all Wars did not. Your life was one of the estimated 37 million lives that the Great War took. And still the human race did not learn the lessons.
In spite of everything I am still hopeful. Still hopeful that my uncles’ and my cousin’s sacrifice will in the end not be for nothing.
From one unknown soul to another, thank you
Rest in peace