The 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month
Even as a child Remembrance Sunday captured my imagination, may be it was all the time I spent as a small girl at the war memorial in the local park, shivering in my tissue thin Brownie Guide uniform, icy cold wind, slapping wet leaves at my blue legs; I took my duty as the ‘Sixer’ of the Elves and therefore tasked with carrying our standard, oh so, very, very seriously (you just knew I was going to have been a sixer, didn’t you? I displayed management bossy tendencies from an early age!)
But it was Christmas at Mr and Mrs Anderson’s home, that was the real reason I knew all about ‘poppy day.’ Mr and Mrs Anderson lived in the ‘big house’ near my parents; it’s not big, now I come to think about it, but in 1967, it seemed big, strange and mysterious. My mum used to go round each morning, to ‘light the fires’ for them (goodness this sounds like something out of Dickens’ not the swinging 60’s, but we are talking rural northern England.) And whilst our house at Christmas was awash with tinsel and fold out paper lanterns (no paper chains, my dad deemed them to be a fire hazard, what with open fires and that) the Anderson’s was stark, the house even by the standards of the day was very old fashioned and Victorian; they had just just one Christmas decoration, a small artificial Christmas tree, that was made out of very sparse green ‘bottle brushes’ it had no other decorations on it than scarlet ‘Haig Fund’ poppies.
Mr and Mrs Anderson’s only son had been killed in the Second World War, they had survived the First World, only to lose their child in World War Two.
For me this provided a very visual link, that has stayed locked in my mind, a link between now and then, and how it must have been; I think as time passes it get harder, if not to forget, but understand the scale of the two world wars, because simply by time we have become removed from them
I wrote a few weeks ago about a rather special gentleman that I had the privilege to meet, and his distinguished war time career, this sparked off a flurry of email’s with Kevinmillhill, about his dad who was shot down at Arnhem and my dad who served in Burma. Kev kindly sent me some fascinating documents, copy of his dad’s flying log and the letter from the air ministry to his dad’s parents, confirming that their son, was reported missing; it makes sober reading, I read them with my son yesterday, maybe, they will have captured his imagination in the same way , that tree of poppies did for me.
Of course Remembrance Day is about all those who have fought lost and suffered in conflict, not just the First and Second World Wars. As so often is the case, my dad in his life time told me little, and I asked even less about his time in Burma with the Royal Engineers, but I do know the experiences never leave the service man/women.
The very last thing my brother heard my dad say, in his drug induced confusion and as they wheeled him in to resus, at the hospital, at the age of 82 and just hours before he died? ‘Get down, get down it’s a sniper’
Lest we forget.