Dear Green Arrow,
I want to tell you about something that happened to me this afternoon, a chance meeting with somebody who had a deep effect on me.
I was visiting my elderly mother in hospital, about 20 miles from my home here in Dorset. She suffered a stroke a couple of months ago but (through stubborn determination) is now able to move and talk again, and is on the road to some sort of recovery. Usually on these visits I take her for a walk into town in a wheelchair, to one of the local cafes, where we share a pot of tea and read the newspapers. Today it was raining a bit, so instead I wheeled her into the hospital conservatory, which offers nice views out onto a lawn and flower beds. There was a man sitting in a chair by the window - he was at least 90 years old, I guessed - and I began talking to him.
The old man had a modest demeanour (typical of Dorset people, and one of the things I most like about them) and a strong Dorset brogue (which is another thing I have grown to like, but is not so common these days). Inevitably, being in a hospital, he got to talking about his ailments, including an old injury to his right leg. I asked him how he got the injury, and he replied, "the war". Gradually, and reluctantly at first, he told me the story of how, as a young man, he joined the British Army, serving first under Montgomery in North Africa, and later in Sicily. He told me about the burning heat of the desert, about the physical hardships and terrors that he and his comrades had to deal with each day, and of facing the possibility of death at such a young age.
Mercifully, he survived the desert war unscathed - or so he thought, because upon his return to England he suffered a prolonged and debilitating attack of malaria, as a result of which he missed the first day of the Normandy landings, joining the invasion on the day after D-day instead. (It is possible that the malaria saved his life.) After battling through ferocious German coastal defences, his battalion pushed forward into Belgium, where he received the injury that ended his war: a bullet smashing right through the bone of his leg left it hanging by the skin.
He told me how lucky he felt to have made it back home, when so many of his pals didn't. He told me how, after the war, and once his leg had healed, he went back to work, rising at five every morning to cycle the ten miles there, working a 12-hour day and then cycling the ten miles back. Year after year, in every kind of weather.
This old soldier had a deep effect on me: despite all the terrible hardships he had suffered early in his life, and despite having no family or friends left to visit him in hospital now, at the end of his life, he was still smiling and open, willing to make new friends. He seemed at peace with himself, perhaps because he understood a basic truth that most younger people in the West don't: that all that is needed to be happy is a roof over your head, a warm bed, enough to eat and nobody shooting at you! I was moved by his story, but also a little ashamed - ashamed of belonging to a generation that has been given so much (opportunities that this man and his WWII pals could barely have dreamt of), lives cushioned by relative prosperity and the welfare state, and yet continually dissatisifed, always wanting more.
I believe that sometimes we need to make a conscious effort to imagine what our lives would have been like if British men and women of the wartime generation had not made their heroic sacrifices. We need to hear (or better still, record) their amazing stories for posterity, before it is too late. And, most importantly of all, we must make sure that we never give away the nation and its freedoms, which they defended at such great personal cost.
Footnote By Green Arrow
My father who died a few years back was one of the soldiers who fought for Our Country. He was wounded and disabled as a result of those wounds he received just after landing on the Normandy Beaches (Sword) and barely survived. A spandau(MG08) could certainly chew you up and by all accounts I and my brothers are lucky to be here.
My father was a lucky one. He survived, many of his comrades did not. Young men dead - never having had a child or hardly any life before dying for their country and us.
And look how we honour their memory. We do not fight the enemy on the beaches and in the streets. Instead we welcome them - we give them our jobs, our homes and our children's future.
I damn you all to hell, those of you who continue to support The Establishment - Your very stupidity will be the death of us all and you shame the memory of my father and men like the hero mentioned in the above letter. Now bugger off and bend over for your Masters. You make me vomit.
Saturday, 25 July 2009
Dear Green Arrow,