It is a sad fact that the veterans of World War II won’t be with us for much longer to mark cataclysmic events such as the D-Day Landings.
This weekend’s incredibly poignant commemorations of the invasion which spelt the beginning of the end for the Nazi war machine involved old soldiers who are now in their mid to late eighties.
It is 65 years since they joined 160,000 allied troops in the largest ever, single day amphibious assault and, one by one, the last of that great generation are making their final salutes.
When you read their memories of that momentous time in history it is incredibly humbling.
None of them consider themselves heroes. They just “had a job to do”, as one Fenton veteran put it last week.
This statement seems patently ridiculous to most of us and is one which, perhaps, only servicemen and women can truly understand.
Suffice to say that it is because of such individuals that people like myself are able to sit around pontificating the rights and wrongs of major world events such as the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We may not always believe that the actions of our Armed Forces are justified.
However, the truth is that most of us have family or friends who have, at some point, risked their lives for Queen (or King) and country.
Take my own family, for instance. The bloke on the end of the bottom row on the picture above is my great grandfather, William Tansey. Or should I say, private William Tansey, of B Company, 1st Battalion, the North Staffs Regiment.
He died forty odd years before I was born.
However, his First World War medals – the 1914-18 ‘Mons Star’, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal – came into my possession when my nan died a few years ago.
They, and the picture of him with his comrades, taken before they shipped out to France, are among my most treasured possessions.
I never knew William Tansey but I have very fond recollections of another ex-serviceman in my family.
My mum’s brother, David Colclough, who lived in Cobridge all his life, was – to borrow a quaint phrase – one of the nicest men ever to put on a pair of shoes.
To me, he was just uncle Dave – the man who made me bacon and potato pie, let me watch The Lone Ranger on Saturday mornings while my mum was out shopping (back when Burslem had shops and an indoor market) and taught me to recite all the ranks in the British Army off by heart.
He never spoke of his war service but I know his glass eye was the result of a shrapnel wound and that he was held captive in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
Uncle Dave died in 1994 but my grandfather’s brother – my great uncle Dennis Tideswell – is still going strong.
Dennis, who lives in Bucknall, is a veteran of the Malayan Emergency, when he fought in the jungle with the Worcestershire Regiment, and he often speaks with great fondness of his old pals in the forces.
He has an infectious enthusiasm which he channels into organising reunions for ‘the lads’, as he calls them, and is involved in organising the annual veterans’ celebrations in the city.
Dennis is a true gentleman and, like my great-grandfather and my uncle Dave, I am extremely proud of him.
As you read this, many of our servicemen and women continue to risk their lives in the heat of the Middle East.
It is in recognition of these brave men and women, as well as all those before them who have fought for us in various wars and conflicts around the globe, that the Armed Forces Day parades will take place across the country later this month.
So, on June 27, let us pay them the respect they deserve and show them just how grateful we are.
Moreover, when you next visit Morrison’s supermarket at Festival Park, rather than being solely focused on your shopping list, make a point of clocking the roundabout and say a little prayer of thanks for our own Victoria Cross winner, Lance-Sergeant Jack Baskeyfield, whose bravery at Arnhem is immortalised with that impressive statue.
And, when you next see a soldier, smile at him or her or, better still, buy them a drink.
They are special people for special circumstances and, irrespective of the passing of time, this is something we must never forget.