Serving as a major in the British army during the Second World War, his rank had become the name by which he was known to most of the community in which he lived. People would address him as “Major,” and refer to him as “the Major.”
The Major’s family had come from a rural corner of Munster. Perhaps they had moved to Ulster during the Troubles of the 1920s. Perhaps they had feared for their lives, perhaps they had faced intimidation, perhaps their house had been burned, the reasons for the move northward were never made know. Had anyone been told the cause of the family’s move, everyone in the small rural community would quickly have known. Among the more unionist and loyalist members of the community there were probably muttering about “them uns down South”, completely missing the point that there were many more like the Major who had remained “down South.”
The Major had presumably been educated in England. His accent bore no trace of either the soft lilt of someone born and raised in Munster or the hard tones of the Ulster Scots. Softly spoken, it was hard to imagine him having been a soldier, he seemed an unlikely person to have commanded a battalion of soldiers. Perhaps that was the way of war, it pushed unexpected people into unexpected roles.
The Major’s age was never quite clear, he seemed to have been old for as long as anyone had known him. Perhaps his military service had endowed him with a venerable air. Perhaps the hideous experiences he endured, the harrowing scenes he would have witnessed, had prematurely aged him. Perhaps he was in his eighties, perhaps in his nineties, it would have been impertinent for anyone to have asked his age.
It was seeing two carers from a nursing home that brought memories of the Major from deep in the recesses of memory.
In his final years, he had to move from his crumbling Georgian house and go to live in a care home. The staff of the home were undeniably diligent in their duties, always kind, always cheerful, always seeking to do their best for the residents.
However, there was one aspect of the life of the home that seemed to grate, the staff called everyone by their Christian name. The Major had a Christian name, it was “Gerald,” but the staff seemed always to call him “Gerard,” despite correction.
Seeing staff of a nursing home today, I hoped that they might remember the rank of any old soldiers for whom they might care.