Lest we forget? We won't forget.
In the living room, carefully arranged on top of the mantelpiece, piano and sideboard, there are lots of photos: individuals, and family groups. Ask the man who lives there, and he will tell you he has three children, two daughters and a son. We look at them at their various stages of growing up: babies and toddlers, the usual school portraits, holiday snaps, graduation pictures.
As we study them more closely, we realise that, where one of the girls is concerned, there are no photos of her beyond the age of about fourteen. A family breakup? A terrible row? A pregnancy that made her parents disown her? Her father realises we’ve noticed, so he says, “My younger daughter, Alicia, she was knocked off her bike and died instantly.”
We don’t know what to say, so again the man speaks. “I always say I have two daughters. I can never forget her.”
Now let’s move on to another house. Once again, we find lots of photos dotted around the living room. This time we count four different generations, the youngest a newborn in a frame engraved with the words, “My first great grandson, born 3rd May 2020.”
The man sees us looking and smiles. “They’ve named him William, after my brother. This is him,” and he picks up a photo of a young man in Army uniform. “Same birthday as well.”
“How lovely,” we say, “he must be very proud.”
“I’m sure he is,” agreed our host. “But he died on his birthday, in 1945. He never got to celebrate the end of the war. A freak accident. One more boy lost.”
We stand motionless, in silent tribute to a young man whose life was cut short, in solidarity with an old man remembering his only brother.
In a way he was glad that Billy had been spared the sight of the skeletal bodies which he had helped to liberate and could never forget. It was 75 years ago – he knew that – but memories of such horrors are impossible to obliterate, in spite of the good life he had subsequently enjoyed.
He picked up the photo and dusted it on his jersey, replacing it beside his infant namesake. He would pray for this little boy, just as he prayed for all his children and grandchildren, that they would grow up and grow old in peace and prosperity.
Without having to read it, he said aloud the prayer of St Columba which he’d bought many years ago in the Iona Abbey shop:
See that you be at peace among yourselves, my children
and love one another
Follow the example of good men of old
and God will comfort you and help you
both in this world
and in the world which is to come
The Royal British Legion invites all of us to mark the 75th Anniversary of VE Day:
at 3.00 pm to participate in the Nation’s Toast to the Heroes of the 2nd World War:
“TO THOSE WHO GAVE SO MUCH,
WE THANK YOU.”