On Easter Friday when I was young, my dad would drag me out of bed early and drive to a bakery in Tottenham where he had gone with his dad as a boy. The bakery had green and cream tiles like a railway waiting room and must have been even older than the bakers who served hot cross buns straight from the oven.
I was 12, a compulsive joiner, a member of the table tennis club, a Boy Scout and went to Sunday school.
That year, on the way home from the bakery, the car rich with the smell of hot cross buns, I told dad that I had been selected – a rare privilege – to carry the Union Jack into church on Easter Sunday at the head of my scout troop. My dad didn’t go to church, but I thought he might make an exception.
‘Why don’t you come?’ I asked.
‘I’m not very keen on flags, son?’ he said, and changed the subject.
I didn’t think of this conversation again until Remembrance Sunday, in November. That’s when the scouts went out to form the backdrop for the squad of old soldiers who gathered at the War Memorial, chests heaving with medals and their berets at jaunty angles.
My dad never went to this annual minute of silence, although he had six medals in an old tobacco tin in the drawer at home. He didn’t talk about the war when I was growing up – that generation didn’t. What I learned about his service came out in bits and pieces when he was over 80 and enough years had passed for the rough edges to have smoothed away.
Dad had altered his birth certificate at 17 to make himself 18 and served as a gunner in the Royal Navy from 1939. His ship, HMS Eskimo, was hit by a U-boat torpedo during the Second Battle of Narvik, in Norway. Dozens of crew members lost their lives.
He survived two Arctic convoys and two things had remained firm in his mind: his mate being sliced in half by shrapnel as they stood behind their Mark XII gun watching boys his own age from sunken merchant ships freezing to death in the icy sea. ‘Throw us a line, mate, throw us a line,’ they called, but the sailors had orders ‘from on high’ not to do so, not to slow the convoy fleeing from Luftwaffe Messerschmitts.
In 1942, dad joined the Royal Navy commandos and travelled on small boats up what he called the ‘chongs’ to rescue soldiers fleeing the Japanese advance through Burma. He could have applied for the Burma Star, medal No 7, but never bothered.
People are People
My father had gone into the war as a patriot and came out agreeing with Samuel Johnson that ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.’ He read Orwell and believed in fair play and common human decency. He had travelled all over the world and had come to see that ‘people are people,’ as he said. ‘No one is better than anyone else.’
He was proud of the NHS, believed strongly in trade unions, voted Labour, but was never active. He had come out of the war unscathed and suffered what they call survivor guilt. The memory of those boys dying in the Arctic Sea never left him.
For my dad, flag waving, war memorials and wearing poppies were symbols to say ‘we are all in this together.’ He had learned that we are not. He saw nationalism as a device used by the ruling class to bind us falsely together and make working people blame ‘foreigners’ for all their woes.
My dad died before the coming of Trump, Johnson and Brexit. He wouldn’t have said much about them. He never did. But I know what he would have thought.
Read You’re a Long Time Dead – my dad’s part in the battle to save Malta
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I love this Clifford
A great and poignant article Cliff.
Great stuff Cliff , your writing is even more convincing when recounting “ true life “ than is you many fictional and semi fictional works . Keep up the good work , it’s great !
That’s a lovely read and a very telling personal story. My Dad never said much about the war either, but I am to understand he was a bit of a lad. Served in the Royal Marines out East until he fell overboard from his ship on the Yangtze River in winter, caught pneumonia and was sick listed out. On recovery he joined the Royal Air Force and helped with the development of radar, based in Bristol. I have no idea how much real action he saw, or what the war meant to him. He was just very thankful when it was over, no medals, just a suit and a handshake.
Thanks for telling your Dads story so poignantly.
Your father experienced first hand the horror and destruction of war. He wanted nothing to do with its glorification when it was over. I know he loved his country but he simply could not stand the hypocrisy.
Thanks for sharing your dad’s story. They ‘did their bit’ as we must try to do ours during these tough times.
This is something I must bear in mind as I go forward.
A poignant read which disproves Larkin.
Thank you for writing, and sharing, this, Clifford. It neatly sews together various thoughts that regularly come to mind when I read the news.
My parents were children of immigrants — all four of whom left desperate poverty in Croatia before WWI — which I think left them with a view that nationalism and flag-waving were important ways of showing that you were a good citizen who didn’t question authority and were keen to belong to their new “home”. From what I can remember from overheard conversations in 1960s San Francisco, that mindset was definitely challenged but never shaken off, despite my flabbergasted best efforts during the Regan era and beyond.
Can smell the hot cross buns now.!
Evocative memories from childhood and the hard truths and realities your Dad had to face.
I happen to come across the Portuguese/Galician word: ‘Saudade’
Easter always seems to carry that deep bittersweet sense of feeling happy and sad at the same time….
I knew about your dad’s Arctic convoy horrors but not that he then served in Burma against the utterly brutal Japanese. forces.
The rightwing ‘leaders we’re afflicted with at the moment wouldn’t get your dad at all, I think. Who could possibly imagine Trump risking his life for his country?
For whom the bell tolls, Clifford. To each of us who hear it, we respond in our own inimitable way. My father saw no action, and like your father, he had no words to say about the war. I found out, when he was also in his 80s like yours, that he was in a reserve occupation. He was a scaffolder. After he died I was given some scrapbooks and albums that I’d never seen before. He was there in black & white faded photos. As a schoolboy champion boxer. As a Corinthian Casual (soccer team) forward in a team picture taken at the Oval, Kennington, their home ground. And several photos of him climbing around in war-damaged London. My favourite, if one can call it that, is my old man about forty feet in the air building a steel frame scaffold to stop St Thomas’s Hospital falling down after a severe bombing raid. The photo is the only high-quality one in the collection. It was published in the News Chronicle that day. My father bought the News Chronicle until it died in 1960. I still remember the last edition, which he brought home from work, going to the Alf Gover Cricket School on East Hill, Waandsworth, on his way home. He came to pick me up and see how I was getting on with batting lessons. The newspaper, like always, was neatly folded under his right arm, hugged tightly. Strange, I never saw him reading it over the years. Never.
Thanks for sharing your dad’s story, Mike, much appreciated.
Fantastic story, and a lovely father.
My father did not go to war. He was a scientist and a doctor. I only remember that we lived on lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry and when he died, we had to pay the lawyer for the loss of a lawsuit against the health system. Today, perhaps he would have won it.
Janet, the Right has the press and perverts the thinking of ordinary people who want to believe their government has their best interests at heart. Which they do not.
This wonderfully poignant and beautifully melancholy memoir afforded me the opportunity to catch a glimpse of a time, a place and of a life that should be foreign to a Baby Boomer from the States. Yet, through Clifford’s homage to his father, I see my own, and I feel I better understand my own father now. Though my father grew up as a blond-haired Swedish immigrant living on the hardscrabble streets of Chicago’s South Side during the Great Depression of the1930s, the parallels between Clifford’s father and my own are striking, and I feel had the fortunes of war somehow thrown these two men together, they would have become friends. My father was too young to enlist, so he talked my grandfather into signing for him. This led to my dad joining the Navy and fighting against the Japanese as a landing craft coxswain who saw fierce action shuttling in troops and carrying back wounded at places such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Like Clifford’s father, my dad somehow managed to miraculously come home physically unscathed, yet mentally, an entirely different person. In my mind, there is no question why these men and women are called the Greatest Generation. And if there is a blessing that my father passed away when he did, it’s that even though as a young man he lived through unimaginable horrors of war, he was saved from knowing the horrors of the ignorance and intolerance of today’s Trumpist/Brexit world. This is not the world my father fought for.
Thanks for sharing your father’s story; the parallels are uncanny and moving.
Nicely put Clifford, it also reminds us that our parents had lives and adventures before we came into being, many stories left untold.
A lovely, touching insight Clifford. I’m so full of admiration for your dad.
Thanks Clifford for the wonderful homage to your dad, very emotional for me as I knew him so well and I agree with every word you say. He had many other parts to his service in wartime which are worth researching. I’m sure you know them already. He was a true patriot who saved us all from the evil of Hitler and his mob. I certainly wouldn’t be here if he and millions of others hadn’t done that. God bless my old brother in law and you his lovely son.. Ted Lazarus.x
Thanks Uncle Ted, that’s a moving response, much appreciated.
Shawn, interesting to see the medals – they are the same as my dad’s. I also have them framed. The two old sailors were probably at some time at the same place at the same time.
My father’s most memorable one-liner: “You’ll never go wrong with a good left foot.”
You’ve definitely got the left foot.
Nice piece Clifford. I’m have no doubt that your Dad quietly did far more than many of that generation who parade year on year and remind us incessantly of their service. They are probably the same veterans who don’t fully appreciate the brutality and sacrifice involved in wars in the last 30 years.
Clifford, a very interesting story. A lot there about your dad I never knew and quite a few similarities with my dad’s story but also quite a few differences. Of course my dad – Reg – was one of Cliff’s older brothers and they must have spent their first 17 years growing up together, even sharing a bed, so one might expect some similarity of stories and views. Was Reg a patriot? Probably, but I don’t really know as he never discussed it.
Reg was almost 20 when WW2 broke out so he didn’t have to volunteer – he was called up! He was put in the Kings Royal Rifles, packed off to Salisbury Plain for his basic training as an infantryman, then on a boat from Liverpool to Egypt via the Cape of Good Hope. He spent the next few years firstly being chased across North Africa by Rommel before chasing him back again and up through Sicily and Italy to Germany. His service record is full of famous place names like Tobruk, Tripoli, Benghazi, El Alamein, Messina and Monte Cassino. At some point he was captured and became a POW, escaped but was recaptured. He was then put into the custody of a German family who were responsible for his good behaviour and he was made to work in factories in the Ruhr.
Nearly all of this I learnt from my mother after my father died. He simply didn’t talk about it at all. I don’t know what he witnessed but I think we can all imagine the horrors. Like Cliff he never attended any remembrance services but always watched the events at the Cenotaph on TV every November. One thing that did surface was the persistent hunger he experienced at the front which meant that whenever we sat down to eat as a family there was never any food left on anyone’s plate, ever! His experience also left him with a hard edge which meant he had no tolerance for people who he felt were whining about trivial issues.
So I guess Cliff and Regs’ early life and war experiences were similar. That said it would appear that things differed in other spheres. Unlike Cliff, Reg was a staunch Tory. He believed that the Labour Party would be a disaster for the country and that Trade Unions were just a bunch of trumped up (excuse the pun) troublemakers. When I was young I remember him saying “too many people in this country think the country owes them a living”. It was only years later that I finally understood what he was getting at. He also was a supporter of the classic class system and was clear about his place in the social order of the time. For example, he believed that the army officer corps should come from the privileged classes and that the lower classes should be the cannon fodder. He said things that made a huge impact on how I later came to see the world. Things like “we can’t go in there, it’s for the posh people”. Really? Despite his views on social order one thing he did believe was that education was the way out of the poverty trap and for that I will be forever grateful.
So was my dad a patriot? Like Cliff he probably was to start with but I think he came out of it wondering what it was all about and why? He adopted a very simple outlook on life, perhaps because he believed it was his destiny and he was just grateful to have survived. He would say things like “at the end of the day if there’s food on the table, a fire in the grate and a roof over our heads then life’s good”. What about tomorrow you would ask? “We’ll worry about tomorrow when it comes” he would say. Perhaps a good motto for these strange times we now live in. It brings focus to what is really important in life.
Your father was a wise man, my granddad never wore his medals either, my gran never boasted things up, they held strong in their beliefs and were the generation that silently carried on with life, looking down on nobody.
My partner and I were talking about the hypocrisy of some
of the people standing outside clapping for our NHS, lot of them voted for Brexit for racial reasons, yet they stand there clapping for a multi-race of NHS workers and I bet they wouldn’t be so racist if it come to their own lives being saved!
I’m a true believer myself that People are People no matter skin colour, sex preferences etc.
Your dad was spot on, and I thank him for his service in a war that could have been avoided if only people showed kindness instead of greed and power ?
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I’m ex WRNS, I served in the 1980’s during The Falklands War, and now am a proud member of the Royal British Legion. I’ve heard stories from the World Wars to modern day war.. I believe everyone has a right to their opinion, and no one who was not beside them at that time has a right to judge a them.
Civvies just don’t ‘get’ the bond and mutual respect of servicemen and women. Those who choose to be at Remembrance parades are not there for themselves, they are there for their fallen brothers and sisters in arms. Those like your dad, have reasons not to go, and we respect them for that.
Those who were there on the front line, wherever and whenever went to hell and back, several times. Now they may need support from other veterans.. because as I said, civvies will never understand. At the end of the day, someone needs to be patriotic when needed. With Covid the NHS are the front line, and the armed forces are there behind them! You did know that didn’t you?
We need patriots, they are the ones there, ready to protect you. That’s their choice. Just as your Dad made his, and he did his duty to the end. God bless him and all his fallen brothers and sisters.
I had a neighbour that was always very pleasant and would take part in little chats …… He never spoke about anything relating to his past ….. But sadness for me was after he died, the house clearance people came across medals and paperwork relating to what he did during WW2. He had been active and also spent time in a prison of war camp ……
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Beautifully written and poignant piece. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Your Dad was a hero, misled as most were into the madness of the day but growing as a human being from his terrible experiences. His legacy clearly passed onto you and deeply embedded in your psyche.
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Your Dad was a good man Cliff. Thanks for sharing.
My father was a Wireless Operator in a Lancaster bomber in WW2 He would go to remembrance day services, not to honour any flag but to honour the hundreds of aircrew who never came back.Never collected his medals and on the very rare occasion that he would speak about his service I think he was ashamed of his part in the killing of so many of our civilian “enemies.”
Thanks for this wonderfully written story about your father. I’ve never been to war, but somehow I feel I can relate with his views.
Thanks for that. Same here. My father was a spitfire pilot, a hero in that war, never talked about it, ever. Had to find out about what happened to him through others who knew him. I often wonder what he would have thought of Brexit, I wish he was still around to ask.
My dad joined the Navy, lied about his age and ended up on the arctic convoys to archangel, wonder if they knew each other. Also, he came from ironmonger row in shordich
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My father was of the same ilk as yours. He came out of the war (WW2) with exactly the same mindset. I found out these things in a very similar manner to you – dribs and drabs over many years and even then with large parts missing. I could never join it up.. Anyway, I joined up myself, he did everything to dissuade me but after I went, he knew I would find the same place as he did and I did…
Thanks for posting…
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‘‘Throw us a line, mate, throw us a line,’ they called, but the sailors had orders ‘from on high’ not to do so, not to slow the convoy fleeing from Luftwaffe Messerschmitts.
Heartbreaking. You serve your country but are expendable.
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As with my father it was difficult to get him to talk of the war also.
I am looking forward to reading these replies about the navy and WW2.
How very hard it must have been to obey orders and leave those seaman
drowning. How did they cope with it?
As to squirrels, in the early 1950s I was at a two-class primary school in
South Milton, South Devon, where I heard some of the big boys talking about how they were given a penny per rat’s tail by local farmers. I don’t know how they caught them or whether it was enough to buy a Beano Annual.
My father was a naval reservist in WW2. He didn’t talk about it much either.
He did tell us about a series of signals exchanged with a nearby ship, whose
subject was their pet goose which had escaped and taken up (unwelcome) residence on board. The other ship’s crew were fed up with mopping runny
goose poo off the decks, and the cook was about to prepare orange sauce … A boat was hastily launched, and Goosey caught and rowed home, to
loud cheers from the assembled crew.
When my husband asked my father how he got his DSC the reply was ‘I lost
fewer ships than the Yanks’ (of whom he had a rather low opinion). In 1966
I went to Magee (now part of Ulster Uni). During a Sunday afternoon ramble along the docks in Derry we were invited for drinks in the ward room of a ship, and learned that it was there to take part in a NATO exercise. This had been delayed for several days because a US navy ship, due to participate, had gone aground at the mouth of Lough Foyle. My father had navigated his ship many times up and down the Foyle during the war …
Another Derry dockside amble resulted in a tour of HMS Aeneas, the last A-class submarine to be built. She was very narrow, the sleeping cabin just a narrow walkway with a pipecot each side. Aeneas was broken up in the 1970s, but before that had been immortalised by starring in a James Bond film, Live and let die.
My Dad served in the Desert. They left their friends in their broken down transport with a days rations. Non of them fixed their machines or rejoined the lines. After the war he worked in Germany as an army translator helping to get Germany back to work. On returning to the UK he also refused flags, marches and ‘going down the legion’. He was destroyed by the loss of life.
Absutely spot on. Verbalises my own thoughts. Thank you.
Shame that truth and justice honesty and morality have been sacrificed by the present “government” in order to line their pockets and lose the faith of other nations in what was once Great Britain . Now a banana republic led by a philandering buffoon and his cronies .
reminds me of something a friend said to me many moons ago …’patriotism breeds militaryism'(sorry about the spelling !)gave me something to think about
My father went through the war from enlisting in 1939 aged 17/18 to demob in 1945. Never talked about it accept to shut down any of my feeble attempts to ask him more about it by briefly revealing what the French really thought of the Allied invasion killing more civilians than the Germans ever did or how ruthlessly we’d really treated some of those liberated from the concentration camps. I think he definitely suffered from PTSD in his final years but pooh poohed any attempt to get him to seek help. He ignored his medals and any reunions or Remembrance Days.
And notably well-written to boot. No surprise there.
Plus sentiments that so deeply reflect my own.
As Edith Cavell put it: “I abhor patriotism. I know I am no better than anyone else.”
Or words to that effect.
Meanwhile we are being led into the valley of death by a blind man made more dangerous by his chronic lying.
Thank you for your very interesting article Clifford. My granddad fought both wars, one in the trenches and one on anti aircraft guns. He never ever spoke of the wars but was deeply disturbed by anything that glorified conflict. The one thing that he did make clear is that we should have sent the politicians out there to settle their differences not youngsters with a whole life to live. Wars, regardless of what side you are on, bring misery, tragedy and despair. Everyone loses …
Thank you Clifford
You have written the same narrative for your father as I would have written for mine, who was a boy seaman win the RN in 1937, served fifteen years, left as a Petty Officer after the Korean War, and whose medals were still in the box they came in, in the depths of a kitchen drawer, on the day he died in 1991.
He, too, had no time for overblown demonstrations of patriotism, never paraded, never waved the flag.
Thanks to him, at least two churches were denied permission to parade the Union Flag at Church parades for at least four years — because I was the minister, and refused to allow it.
I spent 37 years in the RAF as an aircraft engineer starting back in 1963! I always put money into the collection boxes but never take a poppy. The poppy takes money to make and I feel that I don’t need to show my allegiance!
You Dad was not alone on his outlook. You have just described my own Dad.
This is so true.
Thank you so much for this piece, it has encapsulated many of my thoughts
In 1995 in Hounslow I lived opposite a window cleaner (Albert Scripps) who fought in WW2, again he didn’t collect his medals, would only say he lost too many friends. He used to play the Lottery with my then girlfriend, whose German grandfather had been a German PoW in Lubeck , which ironically is where Albert Scripps had finished his war. Albert Scripps, window cleaner from Essex, his mum had been German. No difference just people as you say
My Latvian wife when working at her London Embassy 2015-2019 used to comment that folk looked at you if you did not have a poppy on. I agreed feeling that ‘Poppy Day” had become obligatory, mandatory and lost its original meaning of ‘respect’
I have worked in France where 11 Nov. is a national holiday. There is a lot of civic activity, people turn out and wreath laying at memorials and in all allied cemeteries is done , not marching of troops and yet, in the next few days for sure I will see, some ignorant British comments on ‘French bashing’ on the web. No difference just people as you say
In Latvia, Armistice day will come close to Independence Day (18th) and during this period Latvian troops will march alongside Canadian and other NATO forces, yes again as you say, no difference just people as you say
Thank you , This could be my Dad you are writing about , also a RN Gunner , my Granny said of him , “ They took my young son to war , and sent back a sad old man “.
He too would have no truck with flag waving etc , and maintained that he didn’t need a special time to remember , he thought about his lost comrades every single day .
Glorification of war in any way was anathema to him . RIP all those who gave their lives in the fight against Fascism , wether they died in war or came out the other end , all those young men were never the same again 💐🙏🏻
My dad wan’t a ‘patriot’ either, and he was shot on the Somme and went on to be a pilot in the RFC and the fledgling RAF. He gave more than most of those who assume to speak on his behalf today. He loved and valued freedom. If anyone thinks buying a poppy is about patriotism, then they are really missing the point. It is about respect for those who gave their lives. I do buy a poppy, and when I do I think of all those who sacrifice or risk their lives protecting our freedoms. I may not always agree with the use to which our armed services are put, but I am thankful that I have never had to fight in a war.
Thank you Clifford.
I too could add to the comments that others have made, especially about my maternal.grandfather’s war experiences. His post war ones are so similar to your dad’s and these were a huge influence on me and where I stand now politically and, particularly, with regard to the flag waving and the jingoistic posturing around Remembrance.
We aren’t all the same though. I have more in common with working class people from every single country that Britain has been to war with than the elite who’s skin tone and tongue I share.
Every year I hope that more people would realise what your dad did but the pressure from our political leaders, the munitions manufacturers and their multi-million pound contracts with regiemes every but as heinous as Hitler’s and the media despite what every veteran seems to tell us, the national obsession with flag waving and exceptionalism gets worse and worse.
Members of my family who had been through the wars never spoke about it. They knew the horrors and had experienced them personally. The only people I ever came across who talked about it were those who had never experienced those horrors but they were “patriotic”. They always wore a poppy. Many voted Tory and many were against foreigners coming into the country. Your father was a very wise man and saw first hand how people are manipulated by Governments. I, like your father, will not buy a poppy. If the ignorant choose to call me a traitor they are welcome to but ask them why they buy one, the answer is always “to remember those who fought in the war”! If that is the only way they can show any respect for those men and women they obviously don’t value their memories. Sadly we now suffer the results of modern day patriotism through Brexit! People haven’t learnt anything!
My father served in the RAF during WW2. He said he would wear a poppy when there were no more wars. He never got to wear one.
My Dad was awarded a medical scholarship for Birmingham Uni but his Dad refused to let him go, so he became a gas fitter. The war had him join the medical corps, his commanding officer, at his funeral spoke of the many thousands of lives he saved … Like your Dad he rarely if ever spoke of the war, never attended funerals, said he hoped to be late to his own. Hated Americans for the number allies they killed due to arrogance at the Battle of the Bulge, hated Germans as he was in the first medical wave to arrive at Belsen and hated Iceland as it was a place God built last with what he had left over … I discovered he lost many friends, many patients, but saved thousands … As a Order of the Garter in St John’s Ambulance he did attend Nov 11th, and stayed in medicine after the War, becoming the Medical Manager at Lyons, the bakers.
Patriotism in its simplest, clearest and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, conscience, and a slavish enthrallment to those in power.
Please allow me to share a song that tells a true story and expresses a similar sentiment. It was recounted to me by my grandfather who fought bravely in The Somme, and subsequently came to despise the nation and politicians that had sent him there…
My Grandfather’s Friend, Murray Edmunds, 2017
My granddad told me of his friend who died in France, 1916.
Raised as orphans in Southampton, that was all their lives had been
When, from their residential school for children of the lost and poor,
They came of age to join the army, conscripts for the First World War.
My grandfather was at his side
The morning when his school-friend died.
It was their first day in the trenches when he stood to look above
A sniper’s bullet in the temple killed a boy who’d not known love.
Well, politicians talk of valour, heroes who would not think twice
To give their lives for King and Country, make that final sacrifice.
My granddad saw it otherwise;
In war our nations take our lives.
And so my granddad’s friend was taken at the Somme with thousands more.
Just one day and just one soldier’s cameo in The Great War.
I think of him come each November, prompted by Remembrance Day,
And feel the shame I can’t recall his name or bring myself to pray.
I don’t believe in God, you see,
And yet I like to think that he
Has somehow sent this song to me so in a way he’ll live again
In words that honour long forgotten men.
Your dad is my kind of hero. My Dad was a 17 year old boy from Ireland – one way ticket to war. His dad had been in WW1 and thought this war would be over before dads training was done. 3 weeks training and off to fight in Burma. He didn’t talk about it much either. He did wear a poppy for one day a year – quietly. Me? I have never wore one and never will. The £265m in RBL reserves as ex military are homeless is one reason. The other – is I am anti imperialist and British History is abhorrent. Oh and we don’t need more flippin plastic.
My dads favourite film was All Quiet on the Western Front. THe book is powerful.
Can relate to every word of that, both my parents and their families were the same and they would be horrified by Brexit, Johnson and the likes of Trump and all these populist bastards who have managed to convince poor people that other poor people are the reason they’re poor
Today the news is full of the fact that the NHS is on the point of collapse. Why is that? Is it because people cannot get appointments to see part time GPs and need to go somewhere, now to A&E; Ambulances cannot hand over their patients because A&E departments are full; A&Es cannot move on treated patients because there are insufficient staff to man enough beds and those beds in use are blocked because there are insufficient care staff to support recovering patients at home.
Things will not go back to where they were until we invest in the training of the necessary people or, in the short term, reverse the Hostile environment brought about by Brexit, that has driven many foreign health care staff back to their countries of origen and prevents any new people coming.
My Dad left Ireland in 1943 & came to the UK to “do his bit”, although he was then a confirmed pacifist & remained so throughout his life. As an Irish citizen, he had no need to volunteer, but he did some difficult jobs, all in the UK, but never complained about them. He never wanted to speak about his experiences when I was young, but I’ve come to understand as I’ve grown older. I think he had shut those memories off in his memory and had no wish to re-visit them. My Mum, also Irish & another confirmed pacifist, worked throughout the war in the BSA munitions factory in Birmingham, but again, preferred to keep her memories to herself – especially those of some of her colleagues, who were killed in an explosion in the factory.
This is a beautiful and personal account of what patriotism actually is. Thank you for this.
This is the root cause of inequality for 1000 years and the flag doesn’t unite us but binds us to serve the privileged to enrich them and protect them with our labour and lives.
“He saw nationalism as a device used by the ruling class to bind us falsely together and make working people blame ‘foreigners’ for all their woes. ”
Having said that my family made sacrifices including life and limb as your Dad did to protect us from the curse of fascism which underlies the ethos of privilege and is on the rise again. I and my parents(both served) and grandfather(both WW1&2), uncles….. were all proud anti-fascists or Antifa as the fascists supporters like to call them these days.
all the posturing and parading would mean a bit more if we, as a country, weren’t making and selling weapons to other countries enabling them to attack and kill people worse off than themselves. we are still fostering war and should be ashamed of our country for that reason – i certainly am.
The only wars this country’s armed forced have been involved in since 1945 are wars of conquest and oppression. That isn’t to blame the veterans, many of whom have been working class kids told that the armed forces are a good career, often in areas of high unemployment. I remember those who fought fascism in WW2 in my own way, and those who also fought fascism during the Spanish Civil War. As for forces’ welfare – isn’t it disgusting that this country should throw often traumatized veterans on the scrap head to rely on charity? Those experiences of your dad’s must have scarred him for life. Many former WW2 service personnel didn’t talk about their experiences – not only too traumatic, but knowing that it was necessary to fight fascism. Good for him for not joining in the patriotic guff that too often serves for remembrance.
This could have been my Dad speaking. He volunteered for the RAF in 1939 as he had seen the Hitler Youth assembling when he was in Germany in 1936 staying in socialist youth hostels. He chose to use his trade as a baker when he volunteered as he didn’t want to kill young German men. He was a cook in the RAF throughout the war. He never applied for his medals and never wore a poppy. My mum wore a white poppy she lost her younger brother in the war. She had no time for the British Legion and flag waving and guns. She said the thought of her dead brother every day not just in November.
Yup. Brilliant Clifford. My dad threw his medals away. He thought the war was disgusting, young working class mainly male youths dying for Uber rich to make money.
There’s no patriotism in sending young men to their deaths. None at all.
I think that rich people should pay for their armies and not the electorate. Like it was just over a century ago.
Then we’d see how many men would willingly fight and how wars would fizzle out.
(My dad was left behind in occupied France. And it was the SS who were the invaders. Appalling acts of cruelty were carried out by them. )
My father fought in WW2. He was in the British Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of the war and fought in France until the retreat to Dunkirk he was rescued on the beach and came home.
Following some leave, he was sent to Singapore Japan, and was a subject of the Great Betrayal. He was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. He was held as a prisoner and worked on the Burma railway until Japan was defeated.
When he returned to the UK he was skin and bones and had suffered great abuse at the hands of the Japanese army. His medical records of the time show the level of diseases that he had suffered these included Cholera and Beriberi.
He was awarded several military medals for his service, he never wore them they were thrown in a draw and stayed hidden until he died. He never participated in Remembrance Day events and was a lifelong socialist.
Your Dad was a real hero , in every sense of the word . I was lucky enough to live next door to another with the same views . He abhorred Churchill and war .
Both my mum and dad talked little about the war. Mum was an MP, dad was anti aircraft, had two confirmed kills, a plane towing a target and shop down a spitfire and beat up the pilot (Polish) thought he was German. Both had good wars, they survived unhurt. Brother not so lucky, had demons from time in Malaysian conflict. Great story, sounds a great man, a life well lived. Yes nationalism, racism, sexism, the communist peril, all used to divide the people and keep money grubbing buggers in charge.
Thank you for sharing this. I am also one of those who do not engage in war porn. Mainly because I experienced one and each generation on my family did so too.
Yes, there were some ideals at stake.
I was told that “brotherhood and unity” will save us from a future conflict. Except it didn’t. Guess there’s no such thing as brotherhood and unity. But there is greed, small mindedness, and excellent propensity to remember “what my grandfather did to your grandfather” of course not giving a sht that such to comparisons are ridiculous at best.
My dad served in the artillery and like yours he never talked about the war and I only learnt of some of the things he had done when he met another ex combatant. He was one of the first to be called up as he turned 21 in July 1939.
He was in the artillery and was in Lewisham during the Blitz. He the went to north Africa and served in the campaigns there. Finally he went to Burma and was in boats going up Chong to capture villages held by the Japanese. When it was captured they would leave it under the command of Indian troops and then go on to capture another village. He finished up in Ramree island and the got his first home leave. He then asked not to go back to the Far East but said he wanted to go to Germany. He was then told “you’re not going anywhere. This wars over.” That must have been such a relief . I had 2 uncles in the Far East but one died there. My dad was called Jack McEwen. You never know someone might have known him.
My Dad was like yours in attitude. A Pole ,fighting at Monte Casino for the allied forces at eighteen. He too saw all as human beings and loathed the class system of his adopted country.
He never spoke about his time in the army , but although kind and mild , we suffered the effects of his depression from PTDS throughout childhood.
This is a very moving account which articulates what I have long felt about patriotism. Thanks for posting it.
Beautifully put. And I agree wholeheartedly
Growing up I was lucky to have spoken with family members, friends fathers etc, who had served during the war.
And there is a common theme, that of not feeling proud to have taken part, more ashamed of the slaughter.
God bless these old warriors, may they be granted their peace at last.
Thanks, wise words, well put.