Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Diplomatic Immunity

It was Remembrance weekend and we had a visitor on Saturday afternoon. My wife's friend and former work colleague came a visiting from North Yorkshire and stayed over until Monday. They'd planned a culinary weekend, visiting my wife's new place of work, a `soon to be award winning` bakery and bistro in a little Suffolk coastal village. It's owned and run by a young Canadian gal and her parents from England and Jamaica - what a combination!

Mrs HD's friend is Japanese and although she has made England her home for some years now, she has lived, studied and worked in Paris and is married to a New Zealander. She says she'll never return to Japan to live permanently as the culture doesn't agree with her. We have met her parents on a number of their visits from their home in Japan, recently re-built after the earthquake. They are good sports. Her father speaks some English, her mother none. He is a hoot and last time he visited produced a harmonica he had been learning to play. I have to admit that being serenaded by a Japanese man playing two verses of, "On the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond" followed by "Amazing Grace", on a mouth organ, in a Yorkshire cottage, was one of the more bizarre moments I have experienced.

 Remembrance Sunday was the day I'd decided that I was not going to play any part in what the ladies were planning, unless you count eating and drinking by the log burner at the end of the day. No, I had other plans. I affixed a big red British Legion poppy to my motorcycle and headed off to the Norfolk coast, a 90 minute ride. The temperature was hovering just a few degrees above freezing when I set off at 10.30 but it was dry and the early frosting on the roads had melted. At just before 11.00 I pulled off the A140 into a lay-by, switched off the motor and, with another chap who'd pulled up in a car, I observed 2 minutes silence. The sun was blazing away doing its winter best against the cold wind and I felt its warmth on my face. 
11.00hrs, 11.11.2012

 An hour and two minutes later and I had rolled to a stop in the main cemetery of the coastal town where the earthly remains of my Grandfather had been laid to rest in August 1914. He was a regular soldier of The Essex Regiment well before the war began. He died aged 31. I swept the leaves from his grave and placed the little cross bearing a single poppy, again provided by The British Legion, next to his headstone which in turn was provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission - two magnificent organisations. I had written the names of us, the six grandchildren that he never knew, on the back of the cross. I waited a while and wondered and wandered with my thoughts, then re-focussed and headed into town for a mug of builders tea and a fruit scone to sustain me for the return hop, due south, homeward bound. 

 The tea room was full to bursting with folks all wearing their poppies, many of whom had attended the 11am service at the town's war memorial. I managed to get the last vacant seat at a small table. Before I'd finished my scone the place had almost emptied (biker friendly, pure co-incidence :) leaving just me and two couples with small children, one of whom appeared fascinated by my flip front full face helmet, placed on the table in front of me. His eyes never left me as I paid up, jacketed up, buffed up, walked out the door and readied myself by the bike that was patiently leaning on its side stand right outside the cafe window. Little lad's eyes were like organ stops as I flipped the helmet's internal sun visor up and down a few times to add to his amazement. Switches on, dials alive and swinging, thumb the starter, gear, gone. I smiled inside my helmet, for I knew what that kid now wanted for the next 11 Christmases and birthdays. It was his mother I felt sorry for, remembering the look on my own mum's face when I told her I would like a motorbike for my 16th birthday.

The return journey was in falling temperatures with the sun lowering and giving me a few visibility problems as it's full beam hit me 20 degrees to the right of head-on. The thermometer on the instrument panel was showing 4C by the time I rolled into our village. I de-kitted and, having received a message that the girls were en route as well, I prepared the log burner and decided to put my feet up, put the TV on and watch a bit of the National Remembrance service I'd recorded.

I must have nodded off because I was awoken by the Jack Rascal terrorist whining by the window. They were back! I then realised that the TV was showing a film - shock horror, it was "Tora ToraTora"! I didn't think that would go down well, what with our Japanese guest,  so I quickly hit the channel button. `Shock horror 2`, it was a programme about the battle for Kohima, with hordes of Japanese soldiers bearing down on our besieged and embattled lads. I switched the darn thing off and went into the kitchen to make us some tea as they tramped through the door. I switched on the radio and selected BBC World Service thinking that would be a safe bet. Gor` blimey! it was a programme about the building of the Burma Railway and the 90,000 lives of POW's and Asian labourers it cost. Then I remembered Alan Scott, a friend of my father, who had a cycle shop in Kingsthorpe Hollow, Northampton. He spent time in a Japanese POW camp a mere 16 years prior to befriending Dad. I remember him, a very quiet man with an occasional nervous disposition. I recall how his wife once told my mother of how he'd accidentally dropped a tea cup that he was drying with a tea towel in the kitchen and how he froze and cringed briefly, before carrying on `as normal` and cleared up the broken pieces.
It's at times such as this that the trusty Anglo Saxon general purpose word for frustration, disdain, contempt, resolution etc  (I said it was a general purpose word) comes to my lips, and this was one such moment - "Bollocks", I snapped out of my unnecessary diplomacy, kept calm and carried on. This is what remembrance is all about.


BillB said...

Quite a story HD.

Over here, except for the occasional parade, few people seem to celebrate it except for those who lost loved ones.

And veterans.

Since it fell on a Sunday and primarily state workers want their 3 day weekend, Monday was a holiday for some.

I have a part time job, and leave for work at 06:30.

I am driving in the dark, wondering of our company will be open or closed.

There were cars in the darkened lot, and I smiled knowing that on such days the veterans and active duty are usually on station!

As to your grandfather what a story he would have to tell. And what miserable lives those soldiers had in the trenches.

On POWs of Japan, I know that among our soldiers captured at Bataan at the beginning of the war - 1942 - by 1945 9 out of 10 had died from disease and starvation.

Blue Eyes said...

Gosh, your granddad did good, passing on his genes before 1914!

My granddad got dysentery just as he was about to be shipped out to Belgium. Thank the Lord.

I am extraordinarily proud of our remembrance tradition. One day I will make it to Whitehall. But even watching on the telly makes me go all soft and out of focus.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Bill: Thanks for posting those words. Someone, don't know who, said words to the effect that a nation can often be measured by the way in which it treats its dead. In a civilian context this was brought home to me after the `Herald of Free Enterprise` sinking at Zeebrugge. The Belgian police were surprised that us British sent police investigation teams over to act on behalf of our own Coroners to investigate causes of death of our citizens. As far as the locals were concerned, `they'd just drowned`. Families want to know much more than that.

I know Americans are generally very respectful of their veterans. I guess those wars were slightly different for us in that we had our backs to the wall on both occasions, albeit different in each. I once told my Dad how I'd had my back to the wall at a very violent IRA demonstration in London. He listened to my story and then said, "15th of September, 1940. That's what `backs to the wall` is". he told me to look it up. It was the day in the Battle of Britain when the Luftwaffe had launched a `decisive` mass attack. Churchill was visiting RAF Uxbridge during the raids and looked at the disposition board. He turned to Air Chief Marshall Keith Park and said, "I don't see the reserves, what others do we have"? The reply, "There are none". Everything we had was up. That's `back to the wall`.
As for grandad, the story is fascinating albeit unusual.

Blue: I was an unexpected arrival, much later in my parents life than the typical infant. My mother, in her mid forties, thought her symptoms were precursors to some horrible illness, until I was diagnosed. What a cross to bear :))

Buck said...

I may have mentioned this before, but I was privileged to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies at RAF Uxbridge during the three years I was stationed there... and I'll NEVER forget those experiences. It pains me to know Uxbridge has been closed down; I had some of the very best times of my life there.

Good On Ya for taking that trip to your grandfather's grave on Sunday. If it had been ME... I'd have done it in the car. Bikes, cold weather, and I don't get on very well now that I'm old. ;-)

OldAFSarge said...

Great story HD. I will have to remember to add your Grandfather to those I thank (every day) for my freedom.

Trobairitz said...

Thank you for that post.

I miss the Remembrance Day ceremonies we had in British Columbia. Veterans Day just isn't the same.

I did have an acquaintance explain it to me that in the USA Veterans Day is for those that survived their military service and Memorial Day (in May) is for remembering the fallen.

That just doesn't seem right to me. To me, remembering the fallen needs to be in November.

BillB said...

HD - compared with our loses, terrible enough, they certainly don't compare with Britain's loses since 1914. One day at the Battle of the Somme Britain had 58,000 causalities - the young male populations of entire villages were wiped out - men had joined up under the "pal" program.

Britain & France lost much of a generation of young men in those 4 years. That experience I think helped foster Hitler's rise to power. Neither really had the stomach to confront him in the 1930s.

I think that with our late 1918 entry there was one terrible battle - Meuss? -

I know for our Civil War - it was the bloodiest by far - 1 day in Antietam MD over 20,000 killed - the streams it was said ran red with blood.

WW2 - I remember seeing a British series called "Piece of Cake" - about an RAF squadron - starting in 1940 France - by the end of the war one original squadron member was left - I think that was representative.

A joke among our own Army Air Force at the time was the young men in high ranks - Colonels in their 20s.

There was a reason for that.

BTW as fathers tend to do I think your own father sold you short dismissing your own battle in Ireland - if you are the only one, your back is still to the wall!

Quartermaster said...

Memorial Day, remembrance of the dead, is in the spring because that's when the tradition of Decoration Day began. It originally started in the Confederate States and was adopted by the imperial invaders later. It was a day to decorate the graves of the fallen. 11/11/11 became Veterans Day much later. It started as Armistice Day originally.

At times we may wish things were different, but overcoming tradition is a hard thing to do.

I had a Grandfather who served in the 42nd Division in WW1, an Uncle as a Navy Corpsman with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal and later the Palaus. I can't remember if he was on Saipan or Okinawa later or not. He was in Tokyo Bay for the surrender, however.

Another Uncle was with the 1st Marines at Chosen Reservoir. The family didn't get the body back until the year before I was born (I was born in '54). He didn't get to pass on his genes before he accepted Kim's party invitation. I knew him only through pictures taken at Parris Island.

War is hell, not just for those who fight it, but for those left behind as well. When a country becomes contemptuous of that sacrifice, then that country is near the end of its run.

aniemyer said...

Well, QM explained things well. In the US, because we already had Memorial Day (which began to mark the dead of the Civil War)we chose after WWII to make Armistice Day as the day to note our veterans of all services and all conflicts.

In the odd duality that marks American culture, for neigh on a generation, egged on by those of a certain ilk, our veterans of the Vietnam war were treated poorly and with pity mixed with disdain. Gradually, and supported by their brothers and sisters who came after them, that's changed. I sense more than a little guilt and shame on the part of those who once called them vile epithets and they now seem to mumble their thanks, too.

The Doctor (herself an Army vet) and I both had the pleasure of a text from SNO, known also as "Specialist Dunno", who, having now picked up the pack laid down by us, thanking us for our service. Coming from a serving soldier, that meant a lot.


BillB said...

Comjam - I know of at least 1 guy my age who is ashamed for having protested and evaded the draft.

And funny thing now so many posers want to be a "Vietnam Vet".

HD - our movie industry has over the decades liked to portray the Vietnam Vets as maladjusted social misfits.

Most of them, the overwhelming majority, are anything but.

So many units and groups that would do any generation proud in that war.

One that stands out for me was a small Air Force group known as the Misties.


They had....stones.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Buck: When I'm not feeling tough I switch on the heated grips and wear a heated body warmer (if I can get to it before my wife).

Sarge: Thanks.

Troubairitz & QM: Traditions are traditional I guess ;)

Bill: Interesting comments. My Dad was in a `reserved occupation` during the wat (London Transport) but him and his chums still got bomded and shot at! Yes, a bus was shot up by a smoking Heinkel :0
I worked with a former USAF Viet-Vet who was a ballistics forensics expert, who'd worked extensively in Idaho. By the time I met him we'd both `retired` into another job (in the UK)He said similar to you.

Comjam; How touching!

Hogdayafternoon said...

Footnote re my last: My friend retired finally in 2009 and returned to Idaho. Died suddenly within a year. Cheated out of his retirement. Chet, I miss you. Thanks old chum.