Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance day

I didn't go to church on Remembrance Sunday, so I'm doing my remembering today.

None of my relations were killed in WWII, but my grandfather was in the Royal Engineers. He was the first bomb disposal officer outside the UK, in Egypt, at the age of 20. The army sent him everything they had on German bombs and told him to get on with it, and he did. He won the George Medal. Later he (as he put it) "liberated Belgium" and built bridges over rivers from Normandy to Berlin. Then he came home and resumed his university education and got on with his life. He died last year, and the war had clearly been a hugely significant part of his life - he told us many stories about it. This is one:

When he was called to an unexploded bomb, he used to tie the end of a length of string to the fuse, retreat to the end of the string (which was quite long) and pull out the fuse, causing the bomb to explode. The string would break, and he'd coil it up ready for reuse. But of course the string got shorter every time, so it was vital to get a new bit every so often...

My great-grandfather Campbell died when I was two. He had been at Gallipoli and had one finger permanently bent down into the palm of his hand - it had set that way after being broken. My mother remembers thinking that maybe all grandfathers had a finger like that. He was a newspaper compositor, but he learned to do it again with nine fingers. He didn't have much hair, and he always put the blame on the tin hats they wore.

His brother-in-law, my great-great-uncle Alec, was gassed and was never well again after the war. He died in 1921. I've seen photographs, but don't know much about him, except that he was close to my great-grandmother and gave her two tall blue vases for a wedding present. My mother still has one of them (the other was broken years ago).

Great-Grandpa Campbell's best friend Buddy was killed in France, after a very long journey to join up. My mother has told his story here, better than I could.

It's been a peaceful day here. But not everywhere.

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