Mr Elliott sits on the ambulance trolley, his jointy fingers laced together in his lap, his eyes circumscribed by shadows.
‘I had some shrapnel taken out of my hip last year,’ he wheezes. ‘Copped it at Normandy, but no idea what it was so I just carried on. Well you do when you’re in your twenties. Anyway, this surgeon who did me up in London – looked about ten years old. Turns out he was French. When he showed me the x-ray and pointed out all the metal work, I told him where I think I picked it up. So he turns to his team and says: “People? We must take care of this one. He liberated my country.”’
‘That’s a good one.’
‘It was a good one. Good as new.’
Mr Elliott slaps his thigh and settles back into the trolley.
‘Just after the war they put me in a special detail and we went into this concentration camp, gathering material for the war crimes lot. And I never really made all that much of it, till a few years ago, all those years later, when I’d had my family, finished my working life and retired and all this and that, and then it all came back, and it really started to bother me. So I thought I’d better do something about it, you know, before it was too late. So I started going into schools and telling them about the Holocaust. I mean, you can’t really tell them what it was like, not really, not so they’d understand. Which bothers me, because you see the whole thing just get played out over and over again. You see it in the papers all the time. No-one’s learned anything. Look at that Cambodian guy in the news the other day. And Yugoslavia, Rwanda. Nothing changes. But it made me feel better.’
Mr Leyton, later that same day, sitting on the same ambulance trolley, hugging his toiletries bag, radiating good humour.
‘…So we finished up a couple of miles outside this concentration camp.’
‘Did you go in?’
‘No – I didn’t. But one of the adjutants I knew did.’
‘So what did he say about it?’
‘Not much. He came out with a German attaché case full of watches.’
‘Yeah. He wanted five pounds but I didn’t have enough. He was a Cockney and wanted cash, but I didn’t have enough.’
‘Yeah. Buried in the ground. But he wanted five pounds and I didn’t have enough.’