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Remembrance 2018: Tim Winstanley

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Monday, November 5, 2018

As part of our commemoration of Remembrance Day and the centenary of the Armistice, we're using our College Life blog to feature the perspective of Christ Church alumni who have served in the armed forces, to shed light on their experiences, thanking them for their service and appreciating the role they have played and the things that they have faced while in this role, whilst also looking at the ways in which their time in the armed forces has shaped their impressions of Remembrance and Remembrance Day. 


Tim WinstanleyTim Winstanley left Christ Church in 1981 and joined the RAF, serving for over 30 years before retiring in 2012 as an Air Commodore. He worked in the third sector for an RAF charity for three years, but later re-joined the RAF as a part-time reservist and is still serving in this capacity. His father served in World War Two and his grandfather in World War One, both as 'hostilities only' volunteers, rather than as regular members of HM Forces. 


What is the significance of Remembrance day to you as a serving member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces?

Remembrance Day marks the annual, national celebration of commemoration.  Serving members do participate although veterans of past conflicts often appear to predominate.  The involvement of younger members of the Forces does much to enhance the organisation’s corporate memory and plays an important part in handing down the culture to future generations.

As a young single Serviceman I think I treated the Remembrance Day services with a dispassionate interest – the words used in the commemorative events meant little to me at the time although, like much oft-repeated liturgy, they stuck fast in the mind.  In the liberally inclined decades of the 1960s and 1970s, when wars seemed far away, small in scale and of limited relevance, I don’t recall Remembrance being very ‘fashionable’.  On reflection, there may have been a sense that such activities belonged the past and would dwindle as the generations of mass conscription, National Service and the veterans of World Wars died out.

Sadly, the Falklands Campaign, the Gulf Wars plus conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen rather more large-scale and high profile loss of life and serious casualties, made visible through blanket media coverage and (rightly!) subjected to intense scrutiny.  Whether one agreed with British participation in all or none of these events, there would appear to have been overwhelming public support for the individuals who were obliged to do the fighting.  Therefore, and unlike for instance the USA in the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict, the overt appreciation of Service personnel has increased significantly and with that the collective relevance of Remembrance Day seems to have grown (re-grown?).

Remembrance Day has become, to adopt a phrase of the time, a much more inclusive event. I think the interest and attention Remembrance Day now merits is much appreciated by serving members of the Armed Forces.  Equally, there is currently more widespread recognition of the psychological damage caused by traumas such as war, greater acceptance of open emotional discussion and broader acknowledgement of the possible damage associated with emotional suppression. If these are individual freedoms then there also seems to me to be a collective agreement of the need to share commemoration events like Remembrance Day.

Personally, after 30+ years service, and having lost colleagues, friends and relations of my own – though not necessarily in conflict - I now have much greater empathy with Remembrance.  This may be through personal emotional maturity and a greater understanding of what these losses meant in terms of sacrifice; I am more moved now, and more inclined to be openly emotional, by the words and music of Remembrance.


How do you feel Remembrance day helps the families and friends of those who have seen active service? In particular, what does it mean to the colleagues, relatives and loved ones of those who have been wounded, or those who lost their lives serving their country?

Of course Remembrance Day provides a focus for the thoughts and feelings of a whole nation. However, it is inevitably more poignant and specific for those who have had personal contact with casualties.  I am sure the friends and families of those who have seen active service – and especially those related to war casualties – appreciate the overall recognition which the day provides.


Tim Winstanley in 1981As a serving member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces what is your perspective on the sacrifice of those who fought, and those who fell during the First World War? Do you have a perception of what they endured, which might escape those of us who have never served?

I am as intrigued as the next person by what caused (or perhaps permitted?) men to continue to fight in spite of the awful circumstances and horrific casualty rates of warfare in WW1.  However, it is challenging for anyone – serving member of the Armed Forces or not - to empathise with those who served ‘in the trenches’ 100 years ago.  It was a very different conflict from anything one is likely to encounter in the 21st century, and participated in by individuals who came from a society which in many ways espoused some rather different moralities and behaviours than today.  That said, there are certain bonds that any uniformed service creates which do span the century: comradeship, loyalty, subordination of the individual, self-sacrifice and the potentially unlimited liability of active service.  Perhaps these provide some of the clues behind their collective behaviour? Are they so very different from the attributes required within, say, a team sport?  Fundamentally, I think they were subject to peer group pressure – in a positive way – they didn’t want to ‘let their mates’ down.   Loyalty to ‘King and country’ may have played a part, as may a growing hatred of ‘the Hun’ – whipped up by largely spurious propaganda – but I suspect the close relationships between colleagues in the trenches would have been the strongest influence.

I worked as a volunteer in the Archive Office of Cheltenham College in recent years – on projects to commemorate the 692 fatal casualties suffered amongst former pupils and staff in the First World War.  (It was, at the time, a school with a strong military element and the peacetime British Army - and hence the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 - had a strong Cheltonian contingent.)  On the one hand the sheer scale of the figures was appalling – with up to 25% of the most vulnerable year groups perishing, plus the alarming thought that the statistics for serious battlefield wounds were perhaps 3 times as high as the rates of deaths.  And these figures only really include the visible wounds, thereby failing to acknowledge the profound and sustained psychological effects suffered by many.  On a more individual basis – as a parent and as someone closely involved in education – I could only wonder at the effect on staff who remained.   These individuals, whose passion and vocation was to educate future generations, listened weekly to the names of those who had fallen in the previous 7 days - often comprising those they perceived as their brightest and best prospects.  When one individual is lost to our current generation, the collective sense of a wasted human life and potential unfulfilled is invariably remarked upon. The cumulative effect of 692 such events must have been devastating within the College community.  It is no surprise that some – including the Headmaster - were seriously affected by these events and a number found it difficult to continue in the profession.