There is a charitable organisation called http://www.1418now.org.uk. It was advertised on BBC Breakfast this morning. There is a statue of an unknown soldier at platform 1 on Paddington Station. The soldier is reading a letter, so the organisation is inviting people to write a letter to the soldier, to commemorate World War One. This is my letter:
Are you the Grandad I never met? The one who didn’t get to meet his three sons nor see them grow to manhood? The one who was unable to be with his wife when his baby daughter died?
What a loss for you and my Grandmother, the one we just called Gran. She did a sterling job with those boys, you’d be proud, they grew to be fine men, all with a trade. She instilled morals and values in them that made them grow into honest, proud men. They were all proud to fight in the Second World War. And, unlike you, they came home to tell the tale.
Of course, the one of whom I’m most proud is the eldest, the one who was my father. The one I watched playing cricket and football so well. He must have inherited those skills from you. I bet you would have had so much fun playing football and cricket with those boys.
How awful was it for you in those trenches? I don’t know much about them, except that you were standing shoulder to shoulder with your mates, ripe for the killing. That they were wet and full of rats. That the clothes you wore were really not fit for purpose, and it must have been horrible. I bet you must have felt so lonely and that makes me feel really sad for you. I bet you missed having your fry up for breakfast in the comfort of your own home, and your roast beef and Yorkshire pud on a Sunday. Gran was a fine cook, so you’d have been well catered for.
Did you know that she ended up as a cook in one of the richest households in London? In service, as it was called in those days. She worked her way up from the bottom, and ended up in that exalted position of cook. She left there to go to Carshalton Childrens’ Hospital, and the stories she told from there were something else.
What was it all for Tommy? Oh, I know what the rhetoric, of course. There’s always rhetoric. But really, what was it for? We, the Allies, lost about 6 million military personnel. Somewhere between 700,000 and 800,000 of them were from Britain. I assume that’s mostly soldiers, but I don’t know. Over 20 million people were wounded, and if the TV programmes I’ve seen are anything to go by, some of those wounded were amputees, or worse. I know that we shot soldiers for desertion when, often, they were suffering from what we now call PTSD. So what did it all achieve, when, only 21 years later, we were at it all over again. I’m not a historian, but I somehow think that there was a link between the two wars.
I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you Tommy, but I’m grateful for what you did. If not for you, I might not be here now, sitting up in bed, typing on my laptop.
Thank you Tommy, to all of you Tommies.
©Susan Shirley 2014