The Songs My Son Loved, Radio 2, Monday-Friday The War Brides Return, Radio 4, Friday

Remembrance through song – and laughter through tears

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The Independent Culture

I don't think I've ever listened to a radio programme in tears before, but Jeremy Vine's series of interviews with the mothers of young soldiers killed in action has changed that.

The Songs My Sons Loved was a wonderfully simple idea, and the Armistice Day programme, with Hazel Hunt, mother of Richard, who died just shy of his 22nd birthday, was almost unbearably moving. Each song – they were mostly rock and pop – took on a new, haunting resonance.

It was odd to hear a mother introducing Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire", but she described how Richard's band – he was a drummer – played it at a pub gig on what would have been his birthday: "The atmosphere was electric ... everyone was pogoing, there wasn't room to fall over. It just summed up everything about Richard."

He'd been in Afghanistan for three weeks when the Warrior he was driving ran over an IED. He had catastrophic brain damage, but he was flown home, which at least gave his family the chance to be with him when he died.

Until that point Hazel had sounded, if not breezy, then at least at peace. But as she talked about the day of his death, she quite understandably cracked, and I with her. She talked about his funeral, and the track he'd told pals he wanted played if anything happened to him. It was the Black Eyed Peas's "I Gotta Feeling", the one that goes "tonight's gonna be a good night".

The song played over loudspeakers as they walked out of the packed church. "A lot of people were shocked at a pop song suddenly blaring out," she said, "but his friends were behind us and a lot of them were smiling through their tears, and dancing."

At the end, Vine summed up what the week's interviews had meant for him: "It brings home what extraordinary young men we're losing – and meeting their mums has been the most moving and important thing I've done in 25 years in journalism. And I will never listen to these songs in the same way again." Nor will I.

Another of the BBC's terrific pro-grammes marking Armistice Day was The War Brides Return, a montage of interviews with women who'd gone to North America, having married GIs and Canadians. They were coming home, many for the first time, on the Queen Mary II last April.

Not all their experiences had been happy. "I'd wondered what they look like in civilian clothes," one of them said. As the boat docked, she saw her husband out of uniform for the first time. "He isn't for me. I'm going home," she said to herself. "My husband's brother had to come on board the boat and carry me off."

Another was similarly disillusioned. "My husband wasn't what I thought he was going to be," she said. A train would go through her town at night on its way to the coast. "It used to rip my heart out every time it went by." Which is roughly how I felt listening to Jeremy Vine.