This year, like every year, we attended our local Remembrance Day service, held at the monument in our district.
As always, I cried.
I wept thinking of boys (because that's what many of them were: boys. Boys, but the best of men) who left their homes and their families in 1914, and then again in 1939. Some of them left full of bravado; others left with realistic fear. But they joined up, did their duty.
During the First World War, Scotland lost more than double the number of men, per head of population, in comparison with the UK as a whole. I don't have the figures for the islands, but I have been told that we lost more (again, per head of population) than anywhere else in Scotland. Our losses were huge, and in a close community like we have, nobody was unaffected by the deaths suffered during these wars.
But what often gets to me more than anything else is this:
They left home; some of them suffered unspeakable horrors; they fought alongside fellow soldiers whom they grew to love, and who became their family, only to see many of them die beside them; they suffered extreme cold, extreme heat, extremes of every description; they lived in constant fear, but bravely conducted all the operations they had to; they had their senses bombarded daily with the sounds of bombs blasting close by, of bullets whizzing, of screams of agony from injured and dying comrades.
All that, and so much more. Because words cannot properly convey loneliness and fear - especially the words of a writer who knows nothing of what these boys went through.
And what happened in 1918 and in 1945 when it was time for them to come home?
Well, they came home. They worked. They married and raised families. They carried on working. They asked for nothing. They claimed no compensation; they sought no pity; the attended no therapists.
Their bravery didn't end when the war ended. Their actions for the rest of their lives speak volumes that I can not articulate. How many memories they must have lived with. How many conversations they must have had in the privacy of their own minds and hearts. How many tears were shed behind closed doors? We will never know. It was not their way to draw attention to themselves.
Their way was, and is, the way of duty.
Today, these young cadets stood at our memorial. I pray none of them will have to endure the horrors their grandfathers and great-grandfathers endured.
This man, one of only two Ness men left with us who could have attended today, laid a wreath. Over sixty years have passed since he experienced the horrors of war, and yet he struggled with his emotions as he laid the wreath.
I spoke to him afterwards and he said he almost didn't make it. He almost broke down. Oh, what memories are stored in this man's mind.
This lady's uncle was lost in the Iolaire disaster. I posted about that horrific night here. Her mother was ten, and she always remembered the excitement of that night, the anticipation of her older brother's imminent return. He was 20 years of age, and had been fighting for years.
Can any of us even begin to imagine what that family went through? All that anticipation, just for the joy of the long-awaited meeting to be snatched from them at the last minute.
You're dead right.
And once again, let us never forget....
Freedom is not free.
Let us never take it for granted.