I’ve made reference before to John Nichol’s excellent book about the Dambusters, and how much it spoke not just of WWII but of the universals of conflict. One such thing was the guilt felt by survivors that they’ve got through when their comrades have gone. I’ve seen and heard that from veterans time and again, from WWI through to the Falklands conflict, and I have no doubt it was felt in Nelson’s Navy, among Henry V’s Agincourt band of brothers and in every battle since the dawn of time.
I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to be in that situation, and this is where resources such as personal accounts and poetry become vital. I understand the realities of trench warfare much better from reading the poems of Wilfred Owen, or some of the diaries soldiers kept, than I do from any dry as a bone textbook. I recently discovered the work of Simon Armitage and his poem Remains is a chilling, modern reminder of that universal guilt.