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Standing tall and proud on Remembrance Day


History Alumni and RAF Veteran, Sam Kendall, blogs about History and War reflecting on his personal experience, on Remembrance Day.

Throughout my time studying over the last three years, I have had several opportunities to undertake research on topics that mean a lot to me, especially those influenced by being a veteran of the Royal Air Force.

Due to my personal connection with the Armed Forces, studying historical events within a war setting has always appealed to me, especially those post-nineteenth century. This has given me an academic viewpoint on Remembrance Day, with the bigger picture of why we remember and those who are remembered, as well as it being very personal for me to remember those from more recent conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where I was deployed in June 2010.

As part of the Royal Air Force Fire and Rescue Service, I provided fire cover for the two runways at Camp Bastion airfield. At my time of deployment, the camp was reaching the size of Reading and would have been the UK’s third busiest airfield behind Gatwick and Heathrow. Our other role while deployed was to help remove casualties and fatalities of all nations, from a helicopter landing strip into an ambulance for a short trip of less than 100 yards to the on-camp medical facilities. 34 British Servicemen lost their lives during my deployment, along with another approximately 282 US servicemen and women, as well as those from countless other nations and the civilian population. Unfortunately, our role did not stop at this, we also could deploy beyond ‘the wire’ as part of an Incident Response Team (IRT) to incidents that needed our expertise.

During the two-minute silence, I’ll be especially remembering the 9 June 2010, a day when I had to deploy to an unfortunate incident in which a United States UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter conducting its medical role was shot down due to enemy action. My role was the recover the personnel lost that day in the incident. I would have never known these men, nor would I have met them under a different circumstances, but the fact they lost their lives in service of their country and a shared goal will always live with me. An experience like that, makes you thankful for every day, a willingness to make an impact on the lives of those around you and to stand tall and proud on such days as Remembrance Day.

My passion for further understanding conflicts, looking beyond the battlefield to those displaced by war, is something I was able to develop during my studies, including for my own small research project as part of a final-year module on charity and campaigning in modern Britain. This was an area I had not considered before, and not thought about in times of remembrance. However, after delving into the archives at the Library of Birmingham, I uncovered a wealth of primary sources about the War Refugees Committee set up in the summer of 1914 to manage support for the large numbers of refugees fleeing to Britain, mostly the roughly 265,000 coming from Belgium.

I found out a lot about the Birmingham branch of the WRC, led by Elizabeth Cadbury, in allocating refugees and setting them up with housing, employment and education. A significant number of these Belgian refugees found themselves no longer working as tailors or bookkeepers, but now working as fitters in West Midlands factories as part of the war effort for the conflict they’d fled. There were some tensions, especially when helping with financial support placed them in the role of debt collector, but the committee’s work and the significant local support for it continued for nearly four years after the end of the war. One local resident named K. Brookes sent in a cheque for £2 every month for eight years until the branch closed in 1922.

I was doing this research in 2021, with an on-going civil war in Syria and the US-led Coalition finally withdrawing from Afghanistan, causing a rapid removal of civilian refugees. It was a stark reminder to offer the same welcoming acceptance that those Belgian refugees had faced more than a century before.

It stood out to me when I came across remarks from the Birmingham WRC branch committee saying that, despite finding safety for their families in homes across the West Midlands, most of the refugees wanted to return as soon as possible to continue the fight for their homeland and care for those less able than themselves. This is something that we all have within us, especially those who serve, those who have served and those who have sacrificed their lives in service of others.

As a secondary school History teacher, based at Wednesfield Academy, it was hugely important for me to learn about the history of war – not just about the war itself but all those affected. War is, after all, the point end of history. This is not only of academic interest but matters for the world around us today. There is a common phrase that ‘History does not repeat itself, but its rhymes’.  We often see events taking place that look familiar to us if we know our history.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time studying at the University of Wolverhampton, and once I’ve completed my ECT years I shall return to study my MA in History.

Sam is now a Teacher of Humanities at Wednesfield Academy after studying History & Secondary Education (QTS), which enables students to go straight from a three-year degree into the classroom as a History teacher.

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