Monday, November 15, 2010

Pride

war medalsI haven’t been to a Remembrance Day service for donkey’s years.

It is something I am uncomfortable admitting to because I can’t quite pinpoint why that should be. I used to go every year with my granddad and was very proud to do so. We would take a place among the crowds as close to the Town Hall as possible as this was where the companies from the various armed forces would be on parade and would begin the march through the main street.

Naturally I only had a child’s understanding of what the parade meant. I knew what soldiers were and what soldiers did. I knew that my granddad had been in the navy during WWII and that he was quietly proud of it. I was proud of him. And yet I never questioned his decision not to take his place with the veterans who would also march in the parade.

Year after year these old boys would march past us, their medals making rainbow lines on their jackets, and a few of my granddad’s pals would hail him as they marched by. “Hey, Stan, why aren’t you taking your place here?”, “You gonna join us next year, Stan?”

He would just smile, acknowledge them with a quick word or shout that he was fine where he was. I recall him moaning one year that he wouldn’t join the parade because he felt the government had let the old veterans down with their policies – I don’t think it matters which year it was or which government. I think that sense of being let down, of promises not being kept was constant. Looking back now though I think his real reason for not joining the parade was a sense of modesty. Although he was proud of his service he felt he’d done nothing special. And his pride was tinged with sadness always for those young boys, his mates, who never came home again.

He had his campaign medals and spoke of them often but they were rarely seen. I think I only saw them twice in the whole of my childhood. They were kept still in the envelope that they’d been posted to him in. And that envelope was kept in a Huntley & Palmer's biscuit tin. The tin and its contents are now in my possession and are in the same state that they’ve been in for the last 60 years. The medals in the envelope, alongside his demob papers and his ship service record, all safe inside the biscuit tin.

Though my understanding of Remembrance Day was basic I do recall feeling very emotional as a child – especially when the Last Post was sounded and the silence began. I can remember one year feeling quite on the edge of tears but holding it back lest I shame my grandfather by blubbing like a baby. Looking back now, I doubt such an act would have shamed him. I’m not sure why it made me so emotional. Something about the meaning of the event touched me, I guess, in a way that didn’t need a man’s understanding of war to confirm that, actually, my reaction was the right one.

And then one year we didn’t go. I think he’d reached the age where standing up in the cold for any length of time was just beyond him. He could watch the service on the TV in the comfort of his rocking chair and attend the same service as the Queen. No contest. I wish I’d voiced my disappointment but for some reason didn’t. I didn’t want to put him under pressure, I suppose, and I felt he had more of a rightful say about Remembrance Day than I did.

Even now it amazes me why I just didn’t show a bit of spark and go myself. But there you go that’s me all over. And now, each year, it catches me out. It seems to have dropped off my radar. I solemnly and without fail obey the 2 minutes silence on the 11th but the parade passes me by. Always afterwards, too late, I think to myself: I should take the boys along... I really must make a point of doing it next year.

But the real reason I don’t go, I suspect, is because part of me will be looking out for my granddad. Not in the parade itself - for he was never there - but in the crowds of on-lookers and knowing, with a deep, deep regret, that he is not there, not now, nor will ever be. And his old war mates cannot call to him any longer nor he answer.

I hope it is not just me who remembers him.



Share

39 comments:

Sarah said...

I go nearly every year and I take the boys with me. This year it was as simple and dignified as usual. It was short, but moving. The mayor talked about why the monument to the unknown soldier came about (the French were the first to do this).

I go to show my respect and thanks to those who died and I take the boys so they understand better the implications of war, victory and losses.

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

Oh Steve that is such a wonderful testament to your grandad, tenderly written.
Your grandad will always be remembered because your words have brought him into your readers' lives too.

Steve said...

Sarah: I think I need to take a leaf from your book and drag the boys away from their TV and PlayStation one Sunday a year and introduce them to the truths about the real world. ;-)

Trish: thank you.

rb said...

What a lovely piece.

Yes, maybe you should take your sons along one day. Mine have tended to go to a Remembrance Service or Parade just because they have belonged to beavers, cubs and scouts. One year, when Jack was about nine, he sat next to a Veteran during the service who sobbed the whole way through and clutched Jack's hand. I think Jack was actually rather alarmed by the whole thing and I had to spend some time afterwards explaining exactly why the chap was so upset. But I am glad I did as I heard him explaining to an adult yesterday at the ski club, who had started to talk during the Silence, why it was important they showed respect!

Nota Bene said...

THat's quite a touching tribute to your grandad. I normally go, especially as The Boy is in the army cadets so is part of the parade...but this year I didn't. Not sure why really...

Suburbia said...

It always seems to be a grey, wet and cold day, the perfect mood.

You write about your Grandfather with such love.

Steve said...

RB: a lovely story from you too. I think kids are always alarmed when they see a grown-up crying but the reasons behind it seem to have stuck with your boy which can only be a good thing.

Nota Bene: it's strange ins't it? Some years it calls to us, some years it doesn't.

Suburbia: thank you. When I think back to the parades I attended with my granddad though it always seems to be a crisp, clear day with glorious sunshine and a blue sky.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Now a lot of the WWII veterans are no longer with us, it doesn't have the same pull for me.

I honestly believe that's the last war in which our country was truly at stake if it wasn't fought. The rest seem to have been other people's wars which perhaps we should never have got involved with.

Steve said...

Laura: my granddad felt the same way but whichever way you look at it... our boys are still our boys. And our girls too.

Suzanne said...

I am ashamed to say it always catches me out too. My dad fought in the war too, but he would also never go on parade.
Beautifully written Steve.

Steve said...

Suzanne: I really don't know what stops me from going, I really don't. I hope it's not just laziness.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I admire his modesty. There's a quiet dignity to standing in the crowd and applauding.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: absolutely. And he had that in spades.

The Sagittarian said...

My Grand-dad didn't go to war as he had flat feet and they wouldn't take him!! However, he did his bit on the home front etc here. I don't recall ever going to parades and we haven't taken our girls to any either altho' each year I think I should drag them out of bed for the ANZAC day dawn parade. Great post and tribute to your grand dad, Steve.

Steve said...

Amanda: funnily enough my eldest boy's homework this week is to write about a story or a memory (from a relative) about the World Wars... so now I'm doubly regretting not getting off my arse yesterday and taking them down to the town hall. Sadly, those who remember WWII and especially WWI are year by year slipping away. Soon none of it will be "in living memory". Nevertheless, I hope we will still choose to remember them...

Fran said...

Your grandad would have liked your post. I must admit, the main thing Remembrance Day does for me is to make me thankful that I haven't had to live through a war like the First or Second - we are very protected from the wars we are involved in, because they're elsewhere.

Steve said...

Fran: very true... as someone has already said, WWII was the last war where the UK was under threat; wars these days are for political advantage rather than survival. Different animals altogether.

vegemitevix said...

A wonderful tribute to your Grandad. We have ANZAC Day in NZ as our day of remembrance. It usually starts at a dawn service in the cold autumn morning of the 25th April. I remember going to a lecture about Gallipoli and ANZAC Cove when I was studying history at Uni. We all sauntered in and fidgeted in our seats as Prof began his spiel. By the end even the tough Southland men of the class were in tears.

Steve said...

Vegemitevix: that so many people are so moved gives me hope that one day the futility of war might one day actually sink into the collective thick skull of our species and enable our children to live in a world where war is a thing of the past.

I can dream, eh?

Alienne said...

My dad was in the Navy in the war too;in fact he did 22 years - having signed on for 12 years he was due out in 1940 but for some strange reason they wouldn't let him out then. He never ever went to the Remembrance Day march or any service. He rarely talked about the war and only got his medals out to show us if we pestered him. He always like to watch the service on TV though.

the fly in the web said...

No Armistice Day or Remembrance Sunday in Costa Rica....no army either.

My mother, ex ATS, marched past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday until she was 90...and I wouldn't put it past her to do it again now she has had her hip operation at 95....but my father, a career soldier, refused to have anything to do with it....the hypocrisy of royalty, politicians and churches paying 'tribute' to those they sent into war sickened him.

Wonderful tribute to that much loved man, your grandfather.

Steve said...

Alienne & the fly in the web: I think my granddad would have had much in common with both your fathers...

Mark said...

I think you are right - more of us ought to go, whatever our family involvements. And much like you I always forget or have other things to do. No real excuse.

On a different note I tried logging onto your blog at work today (as I have many times before) and the spam filters blocked it with the message 'potential criminal cotent!' Oh, I laughed.

Being Me said...

I don't think I breathed through that whole piece, touchingly written. I love hearing your stories of your granddad/elders.

I tend to take a very universal (surprise, surprise, I hear you say!) approach to the forgetting to go thing... It seems sort of organic to me, the way your will and free choice about the service each year ebbs and flows. Go with the ebbs and go with the flows, mate. And then it will be exactly perfect the years you go and the years you don't. When the guilt and the second-guessing creep in, that's when you've lost sight and become distracted away from your genuine intent about it all.

That's what I think anyway, for what it's worth xx

Clippy Mat said...

Maybe now that he's gone and he can't take his place in the crowd anymore, you can go just to honour him and his memory. He might like that. His spirit lives on.

;-)

Owen said...

You know, it is possible to create a post in blogger, but to change the date so it appears later...

I think you should create one which will appear on 31 Oct. 2011; which says something like :

Note to self : Must take boys to Rememberance Day parade this year. Grandad would be proud...

The Crow said...

Because of what you've written about your grandfather over the time I've been visiting here, I'll never forget the man I didn't get to meet.

Nor his grandson, for that matter.

Steve said...

Mark: "potential criminal cotent"? That'll be my top ten terrorist tips article that I published a while back. I still get letters from the FBI about that one.

Being Me: thank you - and I think you're right. The guilt and self beating afterwards are pointless and not at all what my granddad would want.

Clippy Mat: thank you.

Owen: that's not a bad idea actually!

The Crow: I'm honoured, thank you.

Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip said...

This post really tugged at my heartstrings. Esp. the image of you looking for you grandpa in the crowds at the end. It just never feels right after someone you love is gone. No matter how much time has passed. Beautiful post, Steve.

London City Mum said...

Like you I find the sounding of the last post very emotional too, no idea why, but possibly because it is the overwhelming sensation of others having given their lives for our own freedom and feeling relatively insignificant in comparison.

Lovely post as always.

LCM x

Steve said...

Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip: no, alas, it is never quite the same but, I'm hoping if I take the boys next year, it will create some new memories.

LCM: "possibly because it is the overwhelming sensation of others having given their lives for our own freedom..." - yep. That would do it.

Heather said...

What a wonderful testament to your Grandad, i'm sure he'd have been very proud and pleased to read it had he the chance.

Steve said...

Thanks, Heather.

femminismo said...

I'll bet it's not just you. Surely there's another who remembers him, even if you do not even know them. I attended a veterans day event here in the states on 11-11. Sad to think of some of the sacrifices to secure peace. So many young men! And women, too!

Steve said...

Femminismo: yes, all those people, all those connections. It's comforting to know that we all know someone who knew them.

misssy m said...

Both my grandads had to stay near home- one was in the navy and was situated at Greenock to defend the ports- in reality he learned how to fish. And my other Papa was int eh home guard in Clydebank which was the most bombed area in Scotland- because of the shipyards and munitions works. So neither were involved in any combat.

It always astounds me that so many men who saw combat won't talk about it- but then what we often don't realise is how absolutely horrific it must have been for them. There was a agreat episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" with Kate Humble. Kate's grandad was one of the Great Escapers. She never knew this about him (even though he was alive into her teenage years). He never talked about the war.

Steve said...

Misssy M: yes, I remember that episode; it was very moving. I seem to remember Kate retracing her grandfather's steps on the forced march they were made to endure prior to their release and she met up with one of the other ex-POWs. As always, despite the stories my grandfather did pass onto me, it's the ones he never spoke about that I wonder about the most.

Anonymous said...

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts

Steve said...

Anonymous: thank you very much.