Many of the world war dead were barely out of boyhood and had had so little of life

Lieutenant John Lowry, who died in 1917 and is buried in Thessaloniki
Lieutenant John Lowry, who died in 1917 and is buried in Thessaloniki

When I was younger I barely ever marked Armistice Day, except in services we had to attend at school.

Now that I am older, I try to go to the Remembrance Sunday services, because it is only as I have got older that I have begun to appreciate how fortunate my generation was not to sent off to what Siegfried Sassoon described as “the hell where youth and laughter go”.

And the older one gets, the more appallingly young someone who has died at 20 or even 30 seems, how little of the miracle of life they had.

At my school in east Belfast, the Great War death toll was a dreadful 126 ex pupils and one teacher, including a young man in the final weeks of the 1914 to 1918 conflict, when he was so tantalisingly close to the safety of the November 11 ceasefire.

Recently I was looking at a photograph of a school rugby team from 1898, of boys who were perhaps in their early 30s when the first world war began.

It was an almost spooky moment. The image was taken on the front steps of the school steps, which are unchanged since then, and, when you look beyond the sportswear and hairstyles of the 1890s, it could have been boys standing there only yesterday, full of life and confidence and hope.

In November, I also think of my great uncle John who died in Greece in 1917, and whose grave in Thessalonika I visited some years ago.

When I was a kid, he was a black and white photograph who meant little to me.

Now I shudder at the thought that such a close relative, dad’s uncle, had his life cut short at 23.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor