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.