The Remembrance ceremony at the London Cenotaph is always a moving occasion. So too the Royal British Legion Celebration at the Royal Albert Hall the previous evening.
For me there are personal elements. Grandfather Tommy served in the First World War and was wounded when British troops were sent in to the Dardanelles Straights in Turkey whilst an attempt was made to secure a bridgehead at Gallipoli. My parents served in the Second World War and I was brought up during the austerities of the post-war years. Also, I had a cousin who was more like a brother to me, who served in the Royal Air Force, and for a period he was in Aden in South Yemen (of which it is now part). Aden was a British Crown colony from 1839 to 1967 and the Conflict between 1963 and 1967 was between the British Armed Forces and insurgents who wanted to claim it back from us. That is a very simplistic view of it but it is not a conflict that gets much mention. Those who fought there call it the forgotten war. When at Remembrance-tide the many conflicts and wars the United Kingdom has been involved in, are mentioned, you would have to strain your ears to hear the word ‘Aden’!
Yet, for those who fought in the conflict between 1963 and 1967, it was real. Some were wounded, some died, including British school children, and many were mentally scarred. The Insurrectionists did quite a job on those who went in fear of their lives. When my cousin Peter came back home, I saw a change in him. He was unsettled and nervous. I think some of that stays with those involved in such conflicts.
A year ago today, he died of Alzheimers so it has been a particularly challenging day.
I decided to write a poem because Peter, like so many, did his duty and put service before self. There is always a consequence even if it isn’t always obvious.
Our Peter (An Anniversary poem)
When our Peter,
escorted home by a bobby of the local constabulary,
face blackened by wood smoke,
eyes bright with mischief,
spoke his signature tune, ‘guess what Mar?’,
his twelve-year- old self did not know
that his twenty-two-year-old self
would face a different smoke of acrid bombs,
firecracker bullets, rifle shots.
He cared for aircraft and people
and Khormaksar in Aden
became an indelible memory of danger,
of innocent children
whose party fun went up in flames –
little-ones facing a violence they had not sought.
Airmen and soldiers watched for insurgents,
who slinked in shadows, hid in souks,
ready to strike at any moment
and pick off their victims.
Well-trained and ever-watchful,
our Peter came home.
Behind, mounded in foreign soil,
friends, comrades remained.
They died serving Queen and country.
He served too
but he was one of the lucky ones.
Or was he?
Something inside him perished or festered.
Secured in a pocket of Remembrance,
all he had witnessed endured.
Wherever he was,
wherever he worked, lived, settled,
that wallet of reminding was in his heart.
‘Home’ would always be
where he had served his Queen
and done duty for his country.
Remembrance Sunday, November 13th 2022