This week I attended the funeral of my neighbour Dick at our West Sussex ancient village church. Dick had reached 95 – a good innings as they say – and until six weeks ago had been a regular sight to us heading off in his car for his morning paper and taking a walk down the lane. It was as much celebration as sadness.
When we got to the church we were handed the order of service. On the front was a picture of our familiar friend, smiling. On the back was a sepia picture of him in his army uniform. It was almost a shock to connect someone we knew to real, world changing history.
Dick had been born in 1920, two years after the end of WW1 and into a Britain struggling to recover from the decimation of a generation. WW2 broke out when he was 19. One of his first jobs was to be stationed in Richmond Park to fend off enemy parachutists who fortunately never materialised. Then he was sent to fight in France and returned with a back full of shrapnel.
We do still have links with WW2 in my family, as do many of us. My mother was six when war broke out, and was evacuated to the Lake District. My grandmother couldn’t bear the separation and after a few months brought her back to Salford. My grandfather built an Anderson Shelter in the back garden. When a German incendiary bomb slid off the roof of a factory opposite and blew their home to shreds, my grandfather’s skills as a builder had saved them.
My eight year old is doing a project on WW2 at school. My mum wrote him a long note on what it was like to be a child in the war, being torn away from family to go live with strangers far away, the air raids while at school, and emerging from the shelter to find possessions ripped and burned. It’s a piece of family history.
To have known someone who had actually fought in the war, these days is rare. I feel our community has lost another important link with history. Later this week I found my eight year old in tears. He said he was sad about Dick and sad that he never got to talk to him about being a soldier in the war he was studying.