Sunday, May 07, 2006

What can you say?

'I keep up with the news. I watch the news pages every morning on TV and read every one. Isn't it terrible about those earthquakes? I blame the French. All those atom bombs they tested under the sea. Well it's got to do some damage, hasn't it?

'It's my diamond wedding next week. Sixty years. We're having a big do at the Service Club. I'm supposed to make a speech and I'm dreading it. What can you say after sixty years? But I've got eighteen grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren - I think. But you see I've got no mates. Or I haven't got what you might call a mate. Just people you see. I used to have Bill M. Although he was never really what you might call a mate-as-such. I'd go round there, we'd spend some time. He doesn't want to see anyone now. His wife, kids, anyone. He's got this thing up his nose. A whatsit, tube. Runs down to a container by the chair, full of terrible stuff. He's gone a bit strange in his head.

'I was eighteen when I was finally called up in 1944. I got sent up to Scotland to train. Freezing cold, practising the D-Day landings up in the Orkneys. Then six a.m. one Sunday I found myself up to my chest in sea water, wading ashore to France, and everyone shooting at me. I was in those wet things all day, and didn't get anything to eat till nine that night. You see the Germans were pulling back. They'd had enough as well. But then a few of them decided to make a stand, so they started hitting us with mortars. The very first one they sent over landed next to me, knocked me off my feet, ripped my leg open and blew my ears out. I was in a right old state. I got dragged on to the Bren gun carrier. This Red Cross guy, he says "You ought to get a toornikee on that, mate" but he didn't do anything. Later on I woke up on a transport ship headed for Southampton. I didn't like that too much, either. Lying there waiting to get bombed any minute and no way of getting out. Still, I made it to Southampton, and got loaded onto a mail train. They'd converted the letter shelves to take patients, and we rode like that all the way to Carlisle. Horrible journey. I was six weeks convalescence there, and that was it, back to BH.

'But my leg was never right. I grew this terrible ganglion on the back of my left knee, and I had this limp. I kept going back to my doctor until he gave in and had me take an x-ray. Well they saw it immediately, this dirty great lump of shrapnel still wedged in there. They said I'd more than likely lose the leg, but they managed to get it out. The surgeon came up to me after and said "Cyril, I'd like to keep that piece of shrapnel if you don't mind". I said to him "But you were the last one to have it." He said "Well in that case the cleaner must've thrown it out." And that was that.

'Before the war I turned my hand to most things. Farm work, building, factories. One time when I was very young I had this job working on the carnations. They grew up to your chest, it was quite something. One morning I ducked down to have a fag. Next thing I knew I was waking up, it was six o'clock in the evening and everyone had gone home. No one seemed to notice or say anything the next day, so I thought I'd got away with it. But come the Friday when the boss was handing out the pay packets he shook my hand and said "Cyril, you could've tried a little bit harder", and that was that. I was out.

But I learned how to milk a cow, build a wall, fix an engine. I bought an old van, filled it with odds and ends and whatsits and drove it all round selling them.

'I come from a big family of fourteen but we didn't get on. Mum and Dad, they didn't celebrate Christmas or birthdays. It just wasn't their nature. The only present I ever got was from my Mum when I was nine - a pocket watch. Other than that, nothing. But my wife comes from a big family and they were fine. And she's always sending cards. Her Dad was mean though. He hated her going out with me. I was just about to give her a kiss outside their house one night and he leant out of an upstairs window and shouted "Leave that". But even my wife didn't want to see me at first. There was a big fire and party on VJ Day, and she said to her sister "Walk me home, Violet. I want to keep him off of me." But she ran away from home to live with her aunt and nine months later we were married with one pound to last us two weeks. But we managed, and now we've got our own house, double glazed, centrally heated, the lot.'

1 comment:

35 said...

And this is what they mean by salt of the earth, and what it means to be British.
Pride, love of family and proud to serve his country, getting on with it with no complaints, and a breed of men--and women-- we seem to be losing more of day by day.
I hope in the future someone can look back on me and feel the same pride that I feel reading about this old man, bless him.