I Remember

Peace Gardens

I didn’t get the chance to post this yesterday on Remembrance Day but I was walking through the park by the creek the other day and came across this plaque.

For some reason it reminded me of my Great Great Uncle Johnny who served in the First World War. His wife was named Alice, although she wasn’t a Murphy, she was a Hamilton.

Great Great Uncle Johnny died when I was about 8 or 9. I didn’t know much about war or soldiers back then, but I wish I had known so I could have asked him what it was like to serve in the war. I wish I could have asked him if he was ever homesick or scared. I wish I could have asked him how he got through it.

I know Uncle Johnny was proud of being a soldier. He had an oak box full of medals. I don’t remember what they were but I remember there were a lot of them and they were heavy and well made. I felt proud when he brought the box out and let me look at them because he wouldn’t let the others kids look. He let me because he knew I was careful. We used to sit there for ages, Uncle Johnny drinking his whisky, me holding the medals. We didn’t speak at all. The room was full of reverence.

Great Great Uncle Johnny drank. Even I knew that. The family muttered about it behind their endless cups of tea and their slices of ginger cake. My aunts, uncles and grandparents rolled their eyes and shook their heads when Uncle Johnny was mentioned as if he was a hopeless case. The war was never spoken of, just his drinking.

Thinking about things now – with hindsight – it was probably because of the war that he drank. No one knew what his experience of the war was like. I suspect no one asked. Maybe that disinterest alone was enough to make him drink. Or maybe it was something worse.

On Remembrance Day I wore a poppy for Great Great Uncle Johnny and for all the men and women who have served in war. I wish I could have thanked him. I wish I could have told him that men like him make it possible for people like me to still believe in peace.

Thank you Great Great Uncle Johnny. It was an honour to hold your medals and sit with you.

I won’t ever forget.

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21 thoughts on “I Remember

  1. Gosh, I almost forgot about the poppies! you don’t see people wearing them anymore! shame on me. you also made me remember an adult who drank from my past…..you stirred up memories, deal Sel. ty

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  2. I’ll blame it on this pesky aftermath of shingles. Not that I’m “wallowing” in self-pity” cause I’m not, but I have to confess … the only dint the day made on me was thinking how odd it was not to find at least an advertisement or two in the daily mail. I didn’t even notice the total lack of veterans with poppies to give out in exchange for a donation. I loved your memory of your Great, Great Uncle Johnny, but was also saddened.

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  3. I was shopping in a DIY store yesterday, and the manager called for 2 minutes silence over the tannoy.

    Everyone fell silent, apart from two women who kept rabbiting on in those irritating pseudo-middle-class accents, in spite of the dirty looks and glances.

    After the silence was over, I told them what I thought of them … and I’m afraid I wasn’t too polite … and when I’d finished, the staff and the other customers gave me a round of applause!

    Then, I knew the 36 years I spent in the Services hadn’t been entirely wasted.

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  4. Hi GYPSY,
    I’ll always be proud of him. It is one of my regrets that I wasn’t older when I knew him. I would have liked to get to know him more as a person.

    Hi HURRICANE,
    You hardly see the poppies at all anymore. It’s such a shame. No matter what, I will always wear one. It’s the least I can do!

    Hi EMPLOYEE 3699,
    Oh, I hope he did know. That would make me feel so good!

    Hi MARY,
    It is a bit of a sad memory.

    I’m sorry to hear the shingles are still affecting you. I haven’t ever had them but a friend of mine got them badly in the legs after a bout of chickenpox. There were days it was so bad she couldn’t even walk. I hope you feel better soon.

    Hi TRAVELRAT,
    Woo hoo. Good for you. It’s awful when people are so disrespectful. Glad you gave them what for!!

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  5. This was a lovely post, Sel. I have such…depth of feeling for those who have – and continue to – risk their lives on our behalf. God bless them.

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  6. My grandma’s name was Alice. What a lovely piece you have written – it made me cry. He probably did drink heavily because of the war, so many soldiers especially the shell shocked one (with post traumatic stress disorder) do. And who can blame them. He would have loved showing you his medals.

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  7. God Bless Great Great Uncle Johnny! Im sure there was a lot that happened in the war that led him to drink and I am sure he had no other way of dealing with that. What a BEAUTIFUL post Selma.

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  8. I was surprised that one of your commenters said no-one much wears poppies anymore. They do here in the UK.

    I have no idea how those men who fought in the trenches in particular coped. But I suppose you just have to. But yes, I completely understand turning to drink.

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  9. I rather like that fact that, in the UK, you call it “Remembrance Day”. Here in the US, we call it Veterans’ Day.

    Remembrance is far more evocative.

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  10. A fitting tribute, beautifully written Sel.

    And what a “coincidence” perhaps…stop by my blog and you’ll see what I mean, re: Murphy.

    PS: My pet name as a child was : Murph. A beloved family friend we called “Aunt” Mary, who was born in Ireland said it was a lucky name.

    Hugs, G

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  11. ok, I thought I had no tears left after this week, but reading this, well, yet again I was wrong

    a beautiful post as always… i love coming here!

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  12. STEPH:
    Oh, me too. Wonderful, wonderful people. We owe them so much!

    JASON:
    Cheers, hon.

    GABRIELLE:
    I think he drank because of the war. It is quite possible he was suffering from shell shock. It makes me sad to think of it. I am glad to have had the experience of looking at the medals!

    MELEAH:
    It was probably the only way he could deal with it – you’re right. Thanks for your kind comment.

    RELUCS:
    How did they do it? I just can’t imagine it. Most of them were so young, too. They were so courageous.

    JONAS:
    I agree with that. Such a pity we forgot that one. I like remembrance Day too. There is a poetic whisper about it.

    GERALDINE:
    That is uncanny. I will definitely be over to check out that story!

    PAUL:
    You are so kind. Thank you.

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  13. What is the tradition of wearing a poppy? Is it the same as a yellow ribbon?

    I don’t think we appreciate enough the casualties of war that go on inside a soldier’s head – it’s the one’s that die that it’s over for. For the living, memories haunt for yrs and yrs to come.

    I like how you don’t judge him for his weakness. Reminds me of my Grandpa. He was a WWII vet – and he saw stuff too. Some he shared, a lot he did not. I suspect your Gr Gr Uncle Johnny suppressed much – it’s a shame no one asked. He’s very lucky to have someone like you to remember him for more than just a lush. You’re a very special person. 🙂

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  14. Hi Selma

    I found this sensitive piece very moving – on Remembrance Day this year I especially remembered my maternal uncle who was drowned off France in almost unbearably poignant circumstances in the very last months of the Second World War. We should take time, always, to remember – so that none of our relatives who suffered and lost so much will ever be forgotten.

    Thanks
    Anne

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  15. TEXASBLU:
    The poppy is for remembrance as far as I know.

    I think post traumatic stress is one of the great tragedies of war. I hope there are more services available these days to assist soldiers with their assimilation back into civilian life than there were when Uncle Johnny was alive.

    I couldn’t judge him. Even at my young age I could sense the sadness in him. And the pride. I don’t think I’ll ever forget him.

    ANNE:
    I am so terribly sorry to hear about your Uncle. That is so sad. We definitely have to take the time to remember. It is really, really important.

    GEL:
    Thanks, hon.

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