Heroes fought to preserve our tolerant and democratic way of life

First published in Opinion

THREE stories from two devasting world conflicts featured in the Gazette’s pages this week are a stark reminder of civilisation’s fragility.

They are tales of heroism involving land, sea and air - of ordinary men who carried out extraordinary acts to protect our cherished democratic freedoms.

This year, the public’s attention is naturally focused on the centenary of the First World War’s outbreak and the Government’s decision to pay £100,000 towards the cleaning and restoration of Victoria Cross recipients’ graves is a symbolic contribution to the commemorations.

In Cumbria, the graves of three VC heroes - James Hewitson, Tom Mayson and Harry Christian - will be restored as part of the project.

Their stories of individual valour under enemy fire were inspirational in what everyone thought would be a ‘war to end all wars’.

But, sadly, this was not meant to be and two other stories featured in these pages reveal further heroic tales, this time from the Second World War.

The story of the Australian airman William Graham is particularly poignant because it is also a tragic tale of romance. On August 16, 1944, just 11 days after he married his young Cumbrian bride, William was to perish in a mid-air collision.

Our third story is an obituary, recalling the wartime exploits of former RAF bomb aimer Archie Johnstone, who has died aged 99.

Archie, who flew with the Dambusters Squadron, helped to sink notorious German battleship Tirpitz in a daring raid over Norwegian fjords in 1944.

All of these stories are testament to the bravery and resilience of our armed services as they fought to preserve this nation’s free, tolerant and democratic way of life.

As current events in Syria and Ukraine worryingly show, peace and security can never be taken for granted.

We owe it to past our heroes to ensure that we remain equipped to preserve what they fought to save.

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