The clock with which my great great grandfather was presented on his retirement from the army in 1886 sits on the mantlepiece. A quartermaster sergeant who served in India for much of his military career, he died within a few years of his retirement.
My great grandfather was born in India in 1878. He was in his late thirties when he enlisted with the British army during the First World War. Serving with the 6th Battalion of the Somerset Life Infantry in November 1917, he was crawling through No Man’s Land cutting barbed wire when he was shot in the chest, abdomen and thigh. He was brought back to British lines and evacuated to the military hospitals at Le Treport and then Rouen. He never recovered sufficiently to return to frontline duty, finishing the war in the Labour Corps. Having survived the First World War, he died from injuries received when the dairy at Chiswick was bombed in 1944.
An auxiliary fireman before the beginning of the Second World War, my grandfather became a member of the National Fire Service, serving in London throughout the war, surviving the horrors of the nightly air raids and the V-bombs. A section leader at his station, he suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the 1960s, flashbacks to the flames and the hideously burned victims of the raids.
My father was a post-war serviceman, but was so debilitated by his six months of service at Suez in 1956 that he was invalided from the Royal Navy in 1962. He finally received a war veteran’s pension in the early-1990s, a pension now received by my mother since his death earlier this year.
Remembrance is personal.
The suggestion was that people should put a poppy poster in their window and stand at their front door for two minutes seemed a pathetic gesture, an insult to the memory of those who endured unspeakable horrors in the service of their nation. To what level of moral cowardice has the country sunk when even standing in the open air at a distance from those around is considered too dangerous?
The idea of standing looking out at passing traffic for two minutes was not acceptable.
I put on my jacket and walked to the cemetery in the Saint John’s area of Worcester. If there were to be no public ceremonies, then I would stand at the grave of my hero, “Woodbine Willie.” Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy.
I arrived at ten to eleven. At five to eleven, I was joined by another man. The cathedral clock struck eleven, and a rocket exploded in the damp November air. We stood for two minutes of silence. A second rocket exploded. I said the words of Binyon’s Ode to the Fallen. We smiled at each other and went our different ways.