Remembering the true cost of war

Having been elected Mayor a couple of months into the Covid-19 pandemic it is only to be expected that invitations to events have been few and far between, writes Wetherby Town Mayor, Coun Neil O’Byrne.

Having been elected Mayor a couple of months into the Covid-19 pandemic it is only to be expected that invitations to events have been few and far between, writes Wetherby Town Mayor, Coun Neil O’Byrne.

With vaccines the hot topic in the news we can but hope that all our circumstances might return to something close to our normal from the start of the year.

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I was delighted when I heard that the Royal British Legion (RBL) had given the go-ahead for the poppy appeal though, with so many of its members having to shield, in a much reduced way than we would have hoped.

I offered support by visiting some of the sites where poppies were being sold and spent some time with Major (Rtd) Tom Smith MBE, also a fellow councillor for Wetherby, selling items and being proud of some folk just donating money without taking anything from the table.

While we knew that Remembrance Sunday could not be the full marching parade assembling at the cenotaph plans were being made for a reduced presence when the second lockdown became necessary to protect the country. Despite this we were determined that we would mark that special day.

At 11am I was joined at the cenotaph by Deputy Lord Lieutenant Paul Lawrence (DL) representing the Queen; Alec Shelbrooke MP, representing the Government; Edna Hilditch (BEM) representing the RBL; while I laid a wreath on behalf of Wetherby.

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Shortly afterwards wreaths from the array of organisations that usually march with us were laid so today it is a mass of poppies.

Thanks to Rev Brendan Giblin and his team, Edna, Tom and I were able to attend and be part of a live-streamed service at the parish church of St James.

It may not have been the day we would all have wished for but we honoured those that gave everything for us and in a way that protected all of us.

Similarly, yesterday, a small group of us stood on the steps of the Town Hall and led the two minutes silence at 11 o’clock.

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Of all the opportunities I had to be part of, the Remembrance period the one that was the most poignant was joining Tom, just over a week ago, in laying a small wooden cross at each of the 11 war graves within Wetherby cemetery.

As we moved from one to another it was the ages of some of those who had given everything to protect others; 30, 22, 19 and then 15 (boy soldier) that struck and moved me the most.

While the vast majority of us are stoic and accepting of the temporary restrictions combatting Covid-19 place upon us there is still a minority, of all ages, who complain about not being able to drink in a pub or gather with a variety of friends.

To them I would say consider the ages of our military dead in Wetherby cemetery, and countless others around the world, and realise that the sacrifices that we are being asked to make are nothing to those that previous generations have made.

I look forward to a time when I can fill this space with a list of Mayoral events I have attended though let us all take it a step at a time.