This is my granddad (far right), a fine young man who was a cook in the British Navy during the 2nd World War. He traveled the seas during the during the war, mainly in Asia and Africa and while he wasn’t on the front line his job was no less important. After the war he was an ambulance driver in Evesham and then later in life a gardener.
He became a member of the Burma Star association after being awarded the Burma Star for his service and for as long as he could drive he would pay a weekly visit to the ‘old boys’ that lived locally and had also served in Burma. The war in Burma against Japan was an important one, lasting over 4 years and ending on 15th August 1945. The Royal Navy played an important role in providing a launching pad for aircraft to carry bombs and supplies to the front line. I like to think of my granddad as providing the fuel for these efforts.
However I know less about him than I really should, growing up a 4 hour drive away and being one of 5 children means you don’t spend a lot of time listening. At least not until you get a bit older and realise that they aren’t just quaint stories, they are bloody amazing stories from a man who has seen more and lived a far more dangerous life than you ever will. By the time I realised this he was already on the downward slope, his wife, my nan, had died of breast cancer in 2004 and he visibly shrank within days. They’d celebrated their golden wedding anniversary not long before; a truly amazing achievement. It’s really no surprise with her gone that he changed, when you have lived with someone for that long it must be a very lonely place all of a sudden.
But I will always remember my summer holidays to North Devon as a child in the seaside town of Combe Martin where my grandparents had moved when they retired. The adventures we had in rock pools searching for crabs and then as we got older having our first attempt at surfing. Many a time we met my grandparents in Braunton for fish and chips in their favourite restaurant. I’ll remember the musty smell of the holiday homes we stayed in with their creaky floorboards and squeaky doors and my dad drinking my granddad’s home brew and needing a lie down afterwards. I’ll also remember the endless stories my granddad told and how everyone in his village said ‘good morning Tom’ as he passed.
I tried to make an effort when I became a ‘grown up’ and go to visit him, but inevitably excuses were made. University or money or social life got in the way. But when I got married we took him our wedding photos to see and took him out for a pub lunch where he proved he could still drink more beer than me. Right at the end he was moved into a home, I couldn’t bring myself to visit, to see a man so changed from the one I remember as a child would have been heartbreaking. For that maybe I am thankful.
But no matter what, I will always remember him and my nan (who was a WREN) on this day. A day to remember those brave men and women who have gone into battle so we don’t have to and although the process of going to war may have changed still do so today. I have school friends now serving in Afghanistan, something which I can barely comprehend. It seems such a bizarre idea that people I know are fighting for their lives and our country while I sit here worrying about whether we are weaning Matilda properly. Our children are the first generation who will likely not have a family member still alive who fought in the 2nd world war, I worry that this will mean they are forgotten. You feel so detached from wars today despite the 24/7 media coverage, they’re simply something that happens on TV. But we must not forget our armed forces that fight today or have fought for this country in the past, we should respect and honour them no matter what our view on the rights or wrongs on going to war in the first place.
I will leave you with the Burma Star motto, the hearing of which never fails to send a shiver up my spine. To my Nan and Granddad and all others that have fought for this great country I thank you.
When you go home,
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow,
We give our today
P.S. Buying a poppy is just one way to give your support, if you want to do more you can also give money to the Royal British Legion or Help for Heroes which supports service men and women from current conflicts.