Why? Why the sentimentality, I asked myself, and that set me to thinking. Then I realized why the tears come to my eyes; it’s because the Great Depression, the World Wars and their effects were the main part of my life for all of my developing years, e.g.:
- My Uncle Bert was an infantryman in France and Belgium during WW1, and was gassed. I never heard him speak one word of any kind, ever! He just sat in a chair and watched us kids at play, he was a zombie…..a victim of trench warfare.
- I was born in the height of the Great Depression in 1932. Nobody had any money, but as dear Brenda put it, “We were all poor but we didn’t know it because everyone else was poor!” So that was not so hard to take! Then came WWII!
- Uncle Arthur was a regular soldier, a colour-sergeant in the Gloucestershire Regiment, an infantry regiment:
- Signed on around the time I was born, 1932
- Served 6 years in Madras, Southern India, then one year in Singapore
- His seven-year term finished, he was “demobbed” (demobilized) in Mar 1939.
- A few months later, he was recalled to active service. (Can you imagine how that must have felt?)
- The next 6 months or a year he fought in France and Belgium with the British Expeditionary Force (the BEF).
- He was part of the rearguard at Dunkirk, and then taken prisoner there.
- He spent the next 4 1/2 years in a German prison camp, Stalag XXB in Marienburg Poland before being marched from there to Hanover by the Germans to escape liberation by the Russians. Demobbed again in 1945, he was unable to walk for months after that because of the forced march.
- He was a wonderful man in every sense of the word.
Add to that background, my personal experiences of air-raids, the shelters, the barricades of steel and concrete across Northumberland Ave to impede the expected German invasion, the anti-aircraft gun at the bottom of the road and the searchlight next to Blaker’s the local shop around the corner, and later the rocket launchers a little further down the road, the gas masks, the rationing, having to ask my mother in 1945 what did they put in newspapers after the war because all I had ever seen was war news. (It was beyond my imagination what else a newspaper could write about!) Then there were the parties at our house just before DDay when several GI’s would come to the house. (Most of the English men were overseas already!) My father would play piano and Sam, the great big black man would sit in my father’s chair. All the other GI’s were white, I think, but we knew little or nothing of colour discrimination because there were not many blacks there, period.
So, Tracy, it was an entirely different background to that of the generations that followed ours, especially those in North America, which is one of the reasons there is such a gulf between the thinking of our generation and those that followed.
Those memories are with me every time I see the Poppy, and that is why when I see it or hear the songs of that period, tears come to my eyes – but I am not ashamed of that. It is my way of remembering!