Jeremy Clarkson – not one of my favourite people – presented an interesting programme on BBC2 about Major Cain, a Manxman who won the Victoria Cross during the ferocious battle in and around Arnhem (the famous/infamous ‘Bridge too Far’). Trying to look for a common theme to the winners of this most famous of medals all they could really find was extreme gallantry and also humility – most of them never talked about it. In fact it turned out Clarkson had married the major’s daughter (after his death in the 70s). She hadn’t known her father had won the VC until his memorial. The sheer bravery of these men is breath-taking, more often than not undertaking Herculean efforts in the face of the enemy to save their mates.
I have nothing but admiration for these ordinary men who performed super-human feats and am very aware of the enormous debt our society owes t them and their comrades who were not so decorated. Passing the little poppy-covered garden of remembrance in the shadow of the Scott Monument in Princes Street it’s not something you can forget, nor should we.
However, it would be nice to see a similar programme and other awards, such as the George Cross, being given in honour of other heroes who are equally modest but save lives. Why is it we do not so honour firefighters more regularly? Men and women who rush into a blazing inferno to save people. Ambulance crews? Often working in horrendous accident conditions, dealing with situations which would leave the rest of us traumatised with horror, yet they calmly get on with their job, trying to preserve human life. What about the folk who risk their health and life working in faraway countries trying to bring aid to those in need? The person who can make a well of clean drinking water is saving countless lives. What about teachers who inspired us? I can think on some I owe a debt too. Why don’t we honour the folk who give up their time to counsel people in their hour of desperate need? There are a million times the heroes in our everyday world than there are on battlefields and they are no less deserving. I strongly suspect many of those modest VC winners who were often simply trying to protect their comrades and mates would agree.