Timing isn’t always everything I decided, and though I’m late, these words still count…
Parade on Armistice Day
Behind that stern moustache
And row of clinking coloured medals
And Desert Rat insignia,
Service dress, and highly polished Sam Browne belt and sword holster
Stood a man.
A man who loved and laughed and grieved and swore and smoked and drank,
And played poker sitting on a petrol drum
Beside his tank in the desert.
He hated the beat of the Funeral March from ‘Saul’,
And he never forgot the ones who were ‘brewed up’.
This was the nightmare he fought most nights for the years of peace.
It had been a daily nightmare back then.
It had loomed while he shaved in half a mug of water,
And haunted his thoughts as he drank a mug of strong tea
To cut that terrible desert drought.
And he never forgot the spring flowers that bloomed in Tunisia.
Just like five weary years before,
He had never forgotten the women of Plymouth,
Who waited with steaming mugs of tea
For the cold, hungry men who landed at dawn
After escaping from Cherbourg,
Three long weeks after the miracle of Dunkirk.
In all the years between, he had been there,
And the names of his battles had
Reverberated through my childhood:
Bardia and Benghazi, Sidi Rezegh, and Sidi Barani,
Tobruk, Tunisia, Salerno and all the others…
He loved his friends and didn’t hate his foes.
Like Abou Ben Adhem, he loved his fellow men.
This was my father.
He was a cavalryman, and proud of the history of his historic regiment – an officer from his regiment was dispatched by the Duke of Wellington to take the news of Waterloo to London. It’s the regimental cap badge at the top of this piece.
Though he survived the war, he didn’t live to old age, and like his other children I still miss him, and I regret not talking to him when I was old enough, or mature enough, to appreciate him the way his friends and his soldiers did. Both groups loved him.
One soldier in the British Army took leave from his posting in Gibraltar to come to London and find my father in his office at Whitehall to give him a watch. Ten years earlier, when we were in Malaya, this man had been fighting the British. My father on patrol in the jungle, captured him, starving and nearly dead from scurvy.
My father helicoptered the ‘bandit’, as the insurgent communists were called, out of the jungle, and rushed him to the only grocery store for miles around, where we happened to be shopping at the time. He leapt out of the army vehicle, calling to my stepmother to buy a box of oranges. While she did this, he carried the soldier from the jeep into the back of our saloon car. Peeling an orange, he fed segments to the nearly unconscious ’bandit’, and then, as he began to revive, gestured to him to go on eating the oranges.
The man was taken to a rehabilitation centre, where he regained his health, renounced his communism, learned English, and finally joined the British Army. He never forgot my father and came to London ten years later to thank him for saving his life.
Armies and soldiers are sometimes reviled, often by people who do not know soldiers. But like most of his fellows, my father was a good and courageous man, a kind and tolerant man – like most of the men of all ranks, that I grew up knowing on army camps around the world. Honor virtutis praemium.
Food for threadbare gourmets
For a celebratory birthday lunch the other day that wouldn’t take hours to cook, even though I felt roast chicken would be appropriate, I compromised. I had a couple of chicken breasts in the deep freeze, so after de-frosting slowly in the fridge, I trimmed them open a bit more, and spread a stuffing of whole grain breadcrumbs, onions and mushrooms chopped and cooked in butter, and lots of chopped sage and parsley, salt and pepper on one breast.
Placing the other breast on top, I wrapped them in rashers of bacon, making a parcel, and holding the rashers in place with toothpicks. Scrubbing a couple of Agria potatoes, I pricked them all over, rolled them in olive oil, and cooked them in their skins at the same time as the chicken. (Hot oven for about 45 minutes, or until ready). When cooked, the potatoes were mashed with lots of butter, salt and pepper.
Spinach and carrots completed the meal, along with good gravy made from chicken juices in the pan, while the chicken was ‘resting’ in a warm place. It was as good as if I’d cooked a whole chicken, and took half the time to cook
Food for thought
I am not interested to know whether Vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn’t. … The pains which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity towards it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.
Mark Twain. American writer, publisher, river boat pilot and many other things. One of his claims to fame was that he was born when Halley’s Comet showed up in 1835 and died, as he predicted, the day after it came back in 1910.
14 responses to ““Old soldiers …””
I loved every word of this. The portrait of a man anyone would be proud to have as a father. The story of the ‘bandit’ is like something out of a good novel. Many cynics would say that in ‘real life’ a soldier wouldn’t show such concern for an enemy; nor would the enemy reform and then go out of his way to demonstrate gratitude.
Thank you good friend, I loved every word of your comment!
Yes, it was rather an amazing story about the ‘bandit” wasn’t it… and the more I think about it, the more extraordinary it is that he managed to discover the name of the person who rescued him, and then where he was, as my father had retired from the army some years before…
I do enjoyed reading about your father. Such a selfless act and what a tender legacy he passed onto his daughter.
Isn’t it fun finding those forgotten treasures? Yesterday we were hunting for something in our subbasement and came across some paintings I did so many years ago as a fledgling art student. A lot of memories surround those.
Thank you for sharing your treasure with us, your readers. And a belated happy birthday.
Hello Rochelle, good to hear from you … you sound very busy selling your books and your paintings … hope it all goes well, and they fly off the shelves everywhere you go …
Thank you for your birthday greetings – I had a lovely time and several celebrations !!!!
What a wonderful tribute to your father. My grandfather was the same kind of man. Although, my father fought in WWII his service was very different, being in the Islands surrounded by the Japanese. He rarely talked about the war.
You are an amazing chef! Thank you so much for your recipes!
That generation had tough times, didn’t they, the men at war, and for us, being bombed and existing on rations – like two ounces of a butter a week, five ounces of meat etc !!!
Glad you enjoy my food – what a pity we’re not close enough to share a happy meal together…
LikeLiked by 1 person
OH! HOW I WOULD LOVE THAT!!!
Wonderful to read. My Dad went through much the same and came through unlike many of his friends. He never talked about his experiences only the funny moments. (Being a funny Liverpudlian). I still miss him.
Hello Margot, so good to hear from you … we had very similar experiences, didn’t we… and yes, we don’t stop missing those wonderful men in our lives… I know how you feel…
The soldiers who serve this nation deserve to be properly appreciated for their service. The wars they fight in are not of their making and regardless of our opinion of the wars themselves, the men and women of our armed and uniformed services deserve our utmost respect and gratitude.
Happy birthday, Valerie, to whoever the celebrant was! 😉 xoxoM
Hello Margarita, I agree with you about your US soldiers. I was writing about the British army which fought HItler alone for two years before Pearl Harbour, which was when the US joined the war…we had long tough lonely times before the US became our allies…
The British Army was what was called a citizen army, since most of the men who fought were not professional soldiers and came from their civilian homes and lives to defend their country, unlike the professional trained soldiers of Germany.
Thank you for the birthday wishes, good friend – it was me !!!!
You are a wonderful inspiration, dear Valerie! Yes, this is my third time here! Decisions are before us – the challenge is to respond with compassion, dignity and humanity. Even in the smallest choices, our actions have profound outcomes…
A belated but very happy birthday! One of the most wonderful things about blogging has been discovering your writing.
Yay for Mr Twain.
Lovely post on your father and soldiering.