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"Cambrai" Day - 1976

 

This article was written by Arthur Matthews and seems to have been some sort of public address, possibly delivered to the local chapter of the tank corps or Dunkirk Veterans Association.

' "Cambrai" Day is actually 20th of November 1917. We keep this service as near to it as possible each year. Having served in Royal Tank Corps later known as Royal Tank Regiment, this has special meaning to me.'

"Jess" Matthews

 

This day is to commemorate the day in 1917 when the tanks were so successful and the Tank Corps, was born. So as most of you know the story I will not go into all the details, but to attempt to give you some understanding of why, in my opinion exservicemen do and should get together on special occasions such as this.

Is there something about exservicemen that sets them apart from the general population? I think there is and most would agree that there is a relationship between them that is unique in society and it is a phenomena that the rest of society has difficulty in understanding and I feel at times misunderstands.

What circumstances created this special relationship? I think that as a body of men they have had to face fear and danger and by drawing on each other for comfort and strength they found the courage to overcome their fears. Whether it be the smaller fears, as when two of us stood at the rail at dusk watching the coast disappear in the darkness and said to me "I wonder" and I replied "I too." Or the starker fear which precedes action, they faced them together and overcame.

When two people in civilian life pass through a difficult situation and raw on each other for comfort and strength to overcome that situation, from that moment a special relationship must and does come into being for those two people and the more difficult the situation the deeper and more intimate the relationship becomes.

At times the exserviceman's life was all danger and by the very nature and facts of his existence there was bound to develop a bond and relationship that only the serviceman could understand.

From this relationship a legendary bond of mateship was born and at times sacrifice. The stories of men who risked, and at times gave their lives to rescue wounded comrades were so many as to be almost commonplace. As of the story of the young soldier who with only split seconds to make a decision threw himself on a life grenade, instinctively knowing it was one or all, he chose to be the only one.

All of the serviceman that died sacrificed their lives for their country, some as well, in very special ways, also gave their lives for their friends, and when we were being prepared for discharge we were told that the thing we would miss the most would be this unique bond of comradeship that existed between serviceman.

Why then do and should exservicemen meet together on occasions such as the one we commemorate? To celebrate a historic event! To carry on tradition! Tradition purely for its own sake is hardly worth the effort.

I am sure that within each one of us there is a yearning for that same close fellowship we had with our mates in the days when we faced dangers together. In meeting together we regain if only for a brief time, something of that which we knew and which to us was so precious. It is good that we should do so for in remembering the past we may carry some of that spirit into our daily lives. I am certain most of us left the forces with the determination that this must never happen again and that we would make this country a better place for our children to live in.

I would hope that we use these occasions to remember and renew those vows, prepared to fight, for if we forget them we deny the sacrifice of those who died. It is good that the young should know of these things, for growing up in a cynical world of selfish materialism which some of them reject, it may mean something to them to know that on the one hand, men trained to kill (and this is the paradox of war that it brings out both the very best in men and also the worst) that these same men could and did live together in a spirit of selflessness and sacrifice, which if transposed onto our society today would transform that society.

How desperately our country needs such a spirit today.

It is good too that we should remember those who died, for in this act it is just possible that we may absorb a little of that which caused them to die. For on the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Greater love hath no man than this, in that he lay down his life for a friend."

 

 

ABOVE: In the Tank Corp

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UPDATED: 25 December 2013

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