Today, at the 11th hour of this 11th day of this 11th month, the time the guns fell silent along the Western front in 1918 and an armistice was declared, the anniversary of the World War One armistice 95 years ago is to be marked in Britain with a two-minute silence. Britons everywhere will bow their heads to remember all those who served and died for our country.
Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day. We will all remember our fallen today.
While in my family neither of my grandfathers went to war, I will remember one of my granddads who, desperate to fight for King and country could not, because of his work with industrial x-ray: his war effort was better needed at home.
Instead he served in the Home Guard (nicknamed fondly here in Britain as ‘Dad’s Army‘). He also built a bomb shelter at the bottom of his garden to which all the family (my mum and uncle as children) and neighbours would retreat when bombs dropped all around them.
The men in my husband’s family, however, did go to war. Here, in my husband’s words, is his account of these men at war:
‘Granddad was off to war in 1914, one of probably 15 or 20 young men from the small market town of Sturminster Newton in Dorset.
Never before travelling further than the West Country, he was in the fields of France for three long years. Then came a brush with immortality in a foreign field, but the mustard gas sent him home, invalided, in 1917.
I was far too young to understand all this. I knew Granddad as an old man in the late 1960’s but later on, through watching the iconic ‘Dad’s Army’ of a Saturday night on the old black and white television, I came to learn that he was in the LDV (Home Guard) and was drilling, patrolling and doing his bit. Evening drill followed by a pint of bitter in the local River’s Arms.
Got his certificate from King George to thank him.
Dad was a Londoner from Greenwich, in the rough, gas-lit and dirty 1930’s streets so removed now from the £750K town houses and Audis…the story goes in my family that being sent into the army was his instruction, rather than having him inevitably end up on the wrong side of the law.
He was a Desert Rat (8th Army), at El Alamein as a Tank Sergeant fighting Rommel’s lot. He never spoke much about the war, but he once gave me an Afrika Corps pin and was in his way grudgingly respectful of the Germans.
Dad though survived and fought through Italy and finishing the war in Germany. He stayed in the army till 1948. His brother Stan was lost on HMS Hood. Said the nightmares never went away though – even in 1994, his last year on earth.’
This, then, is my husband’s account of three men in his family who ‘did their bit’ for their country. His grandfather, Walter Ridout and father, Albert ‘Burt’ Edward Matthews, made it home but suffered the ill-effects of their private wars to the end of their days.
His Uncle Stan never made it home and his war remains buried deep below the heavy waters off the coast of Greenland where the Hood was brought down by the German battleship Bismarck on 24th May 1941.
As seems to be so often the case with those of us from mine and my husband’s generation, we only seem to know clouded versions of stories concerning some of our relatives and in asking my husband more details about his Uncle Stan he was unable to give me much.
This led me on a path of discovery and it didn’t take me long during my research to find Uncle Stan listed in the HMS Hood Rolls of Honour – Memorials to Men Lost in the sinking of Hood, 24th May 1941.
I discovered the tragic news that when Uncle Stan was serving on HMS Hood, his father (my husband’s other grandfather) passed away and he was very concerned for his mother’s health. Sadly, Uncle Stan was unable to come home and tragedy struck when the Hood was attacked and he was killed at the age of 22.
At the eleventh hour today then, my husband will bow his head in silence when the call is sent out to remember the fallen. He, as shall I along with countless others, thank these men and all others for their service to our country;
For their stoicism, for their bravery, for their call to duty and their great sacrifice and for never wavering even as they surely faced a fear so deep that most of us will never even begin to understand.
He will pause to reflect upon his Uncle Stan, whose life was cut so tragically short and whose last thoughts were for concern for his newly widowed mother whom he was never able to return home to and comfort.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
(From the poem The Fallen, Laurence Binyhn 1869-1943)
In honour of Stanley George Matthews