I’m feeling nostalgic today, probably because I just had a birthday, and a rare Sunday off. It was Remembrance Sunday, so there was serious reflection to be had. Most poignant to me was the discovery only this year that my father was a paratrooper during the Second World War and had been shot in the air over Arnhem. I even found a photograph.
Eddie survived the war, but he didn’t beat heart disease, which took him at the tragically young age of 41. My Ma’s war was very different as a teen/young woman in an Italian mountain village near Cassino. If you know your history, then you know how tough that would have been, even without Germans in your house. She is extraordinarily magnanimous to those soldiers today. They gave her bread in secret, saying she reminded them of their sisters. In retreat, the SS were a very different story.
As a child I would roll my eyes at these stories. And, I chafed against our rationing era austerity mentality — be it Ma buying dented tins from the discount aisle in Sainsbury’s (oh, the teenage shame), or my late stepfather’s terrible jokes to persuade us to eat the few healthy things we could afford: “every orange has its appeal” was a better one.
I have long believed that our society divides between those that went through the war, and those that didn’t. As we look set to enter a period of a different kind of austerity, we would do well not to roll our eyes and patronise our Aged P’s. Remembrance Sunday is over for another year, but we must cherish our elderly and their memories. The lessons that lie within them may stand us in good stead in the very near future.