A tribute on Veteran’s Day (USA) and Armistice Day (UK)
My Dad served in the Royal Marines during World War 2. Prior to shipping out to the Far East for the war against Japan, he was in the beach landing party unit and was sent to a port in England called Hull, to practice loading and unloading heavy equipment from ships.
He was nineteen, and quite a good-looking man with an eye for pretty girls. One day, after work, he had fixed a date with a local girl and he decided to wash his feet in the wash-basin of the house where they were billeted. (No deluxe showers in those days!) Unfortunately, because Hull had sustained heavy bombing, the wash basin was cracked and Dad put his foot right through it, cutting his leg quite badly.
Six of his fellow Marines carried him on a stretcher to the nearby hospital, where my Mum was a Staff Nurse. Marines being Marines, they dumped my Dad in the corridor on a mattress, and went off to chat up the nurses. When Mum came on duty, some of the jobs that should have been done hadn’t been done, and she looked down at my Dad and pointed her finger. “It’s all your fault!” Those were the first words she uttered to him.
After his stay in the hospital (and catching him kissing one of the nurses in the linen cupboard!) Dad was sent on sick leave to his home in Devon. He didn’t have a suitcase to carry his few belongings, so my Mum gave him a little brown suitcase, thinking that she would be surprised if she saw either the suitcase or the Marine again. But Dad returned, and gave her back the suitcase. They were then parted for two and a half years after Dad was shipped out East, and the airmail letters flew back and forth over that time.
Dad came back home in late 1945, after the war ended, and he and Mum were married just weeks after his return. She had no clothing coupons for a wedding dress (everything was still rationed), so married in a dress borrowed from her sister-in-law. The reception was just tea and sandwiches for twenty guests at the home of her Mum and Dad.
My Mum and Dad were married for 57 years, through good times and less good times, but it was a genuine love story and they were together until her death fourteen years ago. After she died, we were looking in the bottom of her wardrobe and came across a little brown suitcase – yes, that one from 1941. Inside were all the letters that Dad had sent from wherever he was based.
Dad wanted to re-read the letters, so I put them in chronological order, and then typed them onto my computer and printed them out as a booklet, with some photographs in between them, and he reads them often, re-living those years. This is particularly poignant now that he is slipping into dementia and losing many of his memories.
Like millions of men who came back from war, he put those five years behind him and got on with a life in farming, and Mum continued in nursing until their four children came along. It was only after her death that I suggested that Dad join the Royal Marines Association and he now takes part in the various Remembrance Day services and parades that happen on this special weekend of Armistice Day (called Veteran’s Day in the USA).
Sadly this year he will be missing the parade because of illness, but he will watch it on television. Mum and Dad’s story is the story of millions of people. He wasn’t a great hero, but he did his duty, giving up five years of his youth to serve his country, and I am proud to stand beside him as he remembers all that happened so many years ago.