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- People in story:
- Wilkinson - Arthur, Elsie, Denis, Alan, Doreen and Frank - the dead soldier
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- 06 May 2005
A Uniform too big for a very young soldier
Why is Joy Tainted with Pain and Sorrow?
Dad used to resent going to work on a Saturday. He only went in the morning but by the time he had travelled home from Camden Town it was lunch time and lunch on a Saturday in our house tended to be nearer to afternoon tea-time. Dad loved his garden and to spend time on his allotment but these working Saturdays took up far too much valuable time. As far as I can remember, he always came home in a foul mood and with a very short fuse to his temper. It was advisable to keep out of his way to be fairly quiet and to help Mum to tidy the house before he arrived! This particular Saturday should have been a day of excitement and celebration, a red-letter day! It was hot and sunny and everyone was busy getting ready for the street party. It could have been almost perfect, with the sunshine, bright blue sky and Dad coming home smiling . Maybe it was the uplifting weather and the fact that the war was over at last, plus the prospect of the rest of the weekend doing all the things he really enjoyed doing. I really don't know but I do know that the sight of his beaming face as he came around the side of the house to the back door made me cry buckets. I have never forgotten it and remember asking, 'God, why?' Then I began to philosophise and came to the conclusion that as Dad had come home in an elated and positive mood he may be better able to cope with the devastating news that we had for him. I didn't want him to know, I wanted to enjoy this glowing, delightfully, happy father for a little longer but my tear stained face told him that something was wrong. When he saw my mother he knew that there had been some very bad news.
When the war had been declared as over on the radio, a few days before, my mother had cried and I was confused by her reaction. There had been a very frightening moment too, when Mum had opened the front door to see a telegraph boy holding out a telegram for her. Our hearts beating fast, she opened it, folded it up again and handed it back to the boy. It was for a lady up the road - her boy had been found after having been declared missing! We were very pleased for her but Mum was anxious. Then it happened - preparations for the peace party underway - a knock at the door. There stood a telegraph boy and Mum went pale. She reluctantly took the telegram and read it, " …missing believed killed" she muttered but she had already known for nearly a week.
In all of my twelve years I had only seen my second eldest brother cry once before and that was when his cat Sandy died. Then he shut himself in his bedroom and took his feelings out on next door's cat, Fluffy Floozy, a cat that couldn't compare to Sandy and one he despised. Now he was suffering an even greater loss and he had gone very quiet. My talented, hero brother was big, muscular and strong, physically and spiritually but grief had made him vulnerable and I was very moved. I learned then that big boys can cry. My youngest brother, being closer to my age, of much weaker stature and less of a hero at that time, does not stick in my mind as having wept or not although I am sure that he did. But my father? I knew that he had been moved to tears when reading letters from my eldest brother, because my mother had told me, but I had only seen the tears streaming down his face when he had been laughing at something he had found to be extremely funny. Then he had made us all cry with laughter, but the tears he shed on this occasion shook me to the very core. Even though I know I might have despised him if he had not wept, I could not bear to see my father upset to the point of weeping. How could life ever be the same again?
It was almost unbearably hot, my eyes were red and swollen and my head ached as we carried Mum's baked offerings up the road and handed them to the party organisers. Mum told us that we must go to the party and celebrate the end of the war and to be happy for the people whose serving men would be returning home. I always believed that if I smiled at people then they would smile back, so I smiled, a much weaker smile than usual, and tried to apply some generous but philosophical ideas to the situation I found myself in but it was very hard. I didn't want to go back home because that would make the grief well up again but I couldn't stay. How could I laugh, sing, play party games and dance when my big brother was lying scattered in fragments all over some foreign country? How could I be pleased for the grown men who, for some reason, had not been called up, when my brother, who had fought in horrific circumstances and been blown to pieces had not even reached the tender age of nineteen? No, I had grown up a little more and did not feel like celebrating the end of a war that would cause much suffering for many years to come. The joy of so many had been tainted by the pain and sorrow of so many more,
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