Remembrance Sunday: The important thing is just to be there

I will always think of my late great uncle Tom at this time of year

Share
Related Topics

It was, I think, my great uncle Tom's hands I first noticed and still remember now above all else.

Two bunches of bananas resting on the arms of his chair. No jewellery save for a single band of gold around his wedding finger. Sometimes holding cards, sometimes holding a roll-up, sometimes holding the hand of the girl he married not long after demobbing in '46.

They were man's hands; hands, which, metaphorically at least, had ripped the chains from the gates of Belsen.

My great uncle Tom was among the first Allied soldiers into the German concentration camps as the Second World War came to a close. He was younger then than I am now.

They say he told the girl once, briefly, vaguely, then never mentioned it again. He went insane long before I was old enough to play cards with him or smoke with him or introduce him to the girl who maybe one day I'll ask to marry me.

I think of my great uncle Tom - my late great uncle Tom - this time of year. I remember him.

He didn't fall fighting but he sacrificed half his youth and eventually all his mind in the name of freedom, so it seems sort of appropriate.

Fact is, though, I'd never been to a Remembrance Service until a couple of years ago. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate or understand or care. It's just that these things combine the sort of stuff I'm naturally suspicious of: religion, politicians, ceremony and Sunday mornings.

I promise not to forget, I told my grandad once, just don't make me go and remember.

Something changed, though. Covering a service as a cub reporter I realised the religion and the ceremony and all that other stuff is just decoration. The important thing was just to be there; not just to think thoughts of thank you from a hungover bed but to make an effort to somehow say something in person; to show you appreciate the sacrifices other men have made.

And so Sunday mornings, early-mid November, there I'll be standing outside a town hall or a church.

It's always cold, always brass bloody monkeys. I stand hunched up in my big woollen coat, thinking of bed and bacon and being warm, while these old boys, in their 80s and 90s, stand, spines like rods of iron, shirt sleeves blowing in the wind, medals gleaming.

I always look at their hands. They're always like bunches of bananas too. Maybe it's a generational thing.

Once, an old girl recognised me as I stood shivering.

"I read you every week," she said, thumping me hard on the back. "You write a lot of nonsense."

But it was her and my great uncle Tom's generation who sacrificed so much for my right to write it. So what could I say? I said thank you and I meant it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture