I think I am one of the fortunate few who does not have a living memory link to war loss. My paternal Grandfather served in World War 1 and I think was a Prisoner of War, but I am having problems locating his service record, in WW2 he was of an age not to be called up but was active in ‘war work’ back home; he died of stomach cancer just a few years before I was born and as with many families things were never talked about.
My maternal Grandfather was too young at the beginning of WW1 and for WW2 he was in a reserved occupation being in the Coal Mining industry, not to mention considerably older.
My Father whilst old enough to be called up for WW2 was not fit enough with his willowy figure and milk-bottle-bottom glasses, but he did volunteer as a Police Courier …… in Coventry …… he was one of a band of people who spent hours a day taking messages, paperwork, patrolling, traffic duty etc in this major hub City. He was ‘on-duty’ during most of the blitz raids. The only tale he told was the night of the major raid, where he was waiting at one of the City’s Police Stations, mug of tea in hand. A dispatch was being bagged ready to go when Dad’s close friend came in delivering a report and as he was already bundled up in coat, scarf, tin hat and gas mask box, he took that dispatch and left.
Shortly after he left a particular stream of bombs erupted and all were immediately called to the scenes, assessing, clearing roads, finding casualties. My Father was deployed near a debris pile beside a crater, attemtping to clear the roadways and direct the ambulances and fire brigades as best he could, unbeknown to him, not six feet away, beneath the rubble was his friend, the person who took the dispatch instead of my Dad because he was suited and booted for the cold of the night.
As sad as such anecdotes are, it is more sad that they are being lost, untold, unrecorded.
In recent years the strength and passion for rememberance has become incredibly public, far more so than I can remember.
As a child I remember being in the cold damp church, turning to the brass plagues of strangers names with familiar surnames, being quiet, hearing the readings and singing the usual hymns. I never understood why this was the one time my Dad attended Church, now I know it was for that night and his friend and the other friends that never came home. During the late 1980’s I dated a fellow who volunteered with the Royal Observer Corp and attended the local British Legion service, a much larger affair with flagmen carrying flags and lowering them at the silence – I remember the poignancy of service attitude, that those who served in the forces had and still have and will always have.
I do not remember there being such mass public appreciation following other conflcts, not after Iraq, nor Iran, or the break-up of Yugoslavia, not after the Falklands. I do remember the bringing in of the 2-minute silence armistace on the 11th, standing with Mother in Tesco, mid shopping, and it was a moving experience.
Is it a sign of growing older when these things affect emotions greater, or just a general understanding of what is involved on a n individual level?