Sacrifice is a strong word. A very strong word. It could mean giving up one’s life for someone you love, or a country you love. It can be used in many ways, but all of them are powerful.
Service is a gentler word. In my world service could mean the things you do to keep a car running at it’s best, oil change, filters etc. Service can also mean the act of doing something for someone, waiters and priests sort of thing.
But I’ve learnt a whole new meaning of the word service, and it’s a meaning that is every bit as big and powerful as sacrifice. Understanding the meaning of that little word has changed my perception of my own life, my world and the people around me.
It all started when I donated some race car parts to a bloke with no legs. His name is Gavin and he was building a Bowler Tomcat off road race car, V8 and 4WD in a space frame buggy doing three figure speeds through forests. Gavin did most of the work on the car himself, he built a special tray that clipped on the front of the engine bay so he could work on the engine, hauling himself out of his wheel chair onto the wing. He is an inspiring chap, and his story is astonishing.
Gavin was one of the founders of an utterly amazing charity called Mission Motorsport, dedicated to helping people who are wounded, injured or sick and have served in the British armed forces. The idea for this came from its CEO James Cameron, a Major in the Royal Tank Regiment who had seen many of his blokes suffer life changing injuries and had an overwhelming drive to do something to help.
I have supported this charity from its inception, and in 2014 I took on the role of training manager, building a training wing so that ex-soldiers could become mechanics and technicians. When someone enrols on one of our courses I interview them to find out what they already know, what they want to achieve and also what is holding them back. I’ve heard many stories, some inspiring, some distressing, all remarkable.
Before this I never had much to do with the forces, one of my school friends became a technician in the RAF, and my dad served in World War 2 but he never talked about it and other than that everyone I know is a dedicated civilian. Like many ordinary folk all I knew about life in the forces was what I saw in the news, films and TV shows gave glimpses but really it was a world totally separate to mine. But what I have learnt in the last three years has changed everything.
That word, service, it turns out to mean a lot. It means to serve your country, to deliberately put yourself in harms way to protect others, to seek out and engage with the enemy. Now clearly not all conflict has a clear cut right and wrong, some of the reasons for our exploits abroad over the years have been deeply flawed, defining what the enemy is comes down to the democratically elected government and is a whole different topic, but getting on with the job comes down to those who signed up to serve their country. The UK doesn’t have conscription, so our army is all volunteers who have made this their profession. It takes a certain sort of person to do that. I didn’t join up for the simple reason that I didn’t fancy being shot at, but of course what that actually means is that I would rather save my own skin than serve my country.
Now, that decision is fine, because the whole point of a country having armed forces is so that the majority of the population doesn’t have to fight and can get on with life. But it does leave me feeling slightly guilty for relying on the service, and sacrifice, of others. There is part of me that wishes I had in some way served, done my bit as it were.
At home we always watch the remembrance day ceremony on the TV, we have brought up our son to appreciate what it’s all about too. And now that many of the people I work with are from the forces, and privileged to call them friends, the ceremony has a new poignancy.
Last year was a break from tradition for me, I did not watch the ceremony on TV, I was at a real ceremony in the top left hand corner of Wales. Mission Motorsport run a race weekend that incorporates a very moving remembrance ceremony, the racing stops and everyone congregates on the circuit, a mixture of veterans, serving personnel and civilians like me. Seeing how deeply those who had served were touched by the ceremony was profound, I know how some of them had suffered personally or had lost good friends which gave the ceremony words striking relevance.
Service, sacrifice, suffering. All words that have very deep meaning, but a meaning worth taking time to understand.