Let us Remember these Men at the Eleventh Hour

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.

The Home Guard Certificate for Walter Ridout

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

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri has been writing full time since 2011. Currently working on her memoir, 'Stranger in a White Dress', she has been published in a variety of national magazines, websites and three anthologies. Sherri raised her three, now adult children, in California for twenty years and today, lives in England’s West Country with her hubby, Aspie youngest, two cats, a grumpy bunny and a family of Chinese Button Quails. She keeps out of mischief blogging, gardening, walking by the sea and snapping endless photographs. Her garden robin muse vists regularly.
This entry was posted in Current Affairs, Family Memoirs, HIstory and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Let us Remember these Men at the Eleventh Hour

  1. Profound and moving – thank you so much for your post.

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  2. Sherri says:

    We shall never forget and be ever thankful… x

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  3. Beautiful post, Sherri.

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  4. jennypellett says:

    Great post: history always comes into sharp focus when we can apply it to family.

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    • Sherri says:

      Thanks Jenny, and yes, it certainly does. I had always wanted to know more of my husband’s family and I couldn’t believe it when I found the link about Uncle Stan. My husband was amazed! What a tragic story though, as with so many…

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  5. Rachel says:

    A really nice tribute to all those who fought and died in the great wars, Sherri. Both my grandfathers fought in WWII. One of them was stationed in Europe for a fair amount of it but was posted to PNG towards the end to fight the advancing Japanese. He saw some horrendous stuff there, including the death of his best friend who was right beside him at the time. Conditions were appalling and most of them were starving. My other grandfather was involved with communications – intercepting and interpreting morse code messages. I also have a great-uncle who died at Gallipoli. A tree was planted in his memory at my grandfather’s farm with a plaque attached to it and by the time of my birth, it had become a huge tree, perfect for climbing. Sadly, it was lost to a storm about 10 years ago but none of us who grew up climbing in that tree will ever forget him.

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    • Sherri says:

      Very poignant war stories from your family Rachel, thank you for sharing them here.
      My husband’s father shared some horrific stories too. How awful for your grandfather to have witnessed the death of his best friend like that, I just can’t even imagine how anyone can recover from that…

      What a beautiful memorial for your great-uncle in planting the tree and what loving, enduring memories you will always have of him, even though the tree is no longer standing. I am deeply touched by this…

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  6. Thank you for such a thoughtful post on Veteran’s Day!

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  7. Lee J Dawson says:

    Excellent post, Sherri. We owe so much to all those people who fought during the war and worked for the war effort at home. We also owe so much to the young men and women who go on fighting.

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    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Lee and yes, absolutely, we do indeed owe so much to these young men and women. Also a time to remember all the mothers and wives who lost sons and husbands and how they had/have to carry on grief-stricken while still keeping the home fires burning.

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  8. xbox2121 says:

    A very touching tribute to the fallen Sherri, especially since you were able to personalize with your families experiences. I am not sure but I think none of my relatives even served in anything.

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    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Bob. I write so much about my own family that I wanted to post this out of respect for my husband’s family.
      It is the same with my family as with yours, I still have never been able to find out why my other granddad never went to war as he would certainly have been eligible and sent to war unless he had a good reason not to go…

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  9. This is a spectacular commemoration, Sherri.
    War is a terrible thing to live through. Our soldiers of WWI and WWII should never be forgotten. We must always be thankful for what we all have through their sacrifices.

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  10. Denise says:

    Thank you for your very profound thoughts on this day. I was particularly moved by the reminder that over the years, the memories do not fade. Years later we may see different people on the outside than the fresh faced boys from those antique photos, but there are some things that can and should never be forgotten.

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    • Sherri says:

      Yes, that is such a great point Denise. The memories do not fade for so many and some do not even get the chance to have these memories, like my husband’s Uncle Stan. I was so struck when I found the link and saw the ‘fresh faced’ boy staring back at me, only to know that his life was cut so short, like so many then and now. My husband was floored as he had never seen the letter which was written to his grandmother and the telegram which followed. It really brought it all home.

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  12. A great memorial post Sherri! We should have that 2 minute silence here in the States as well.

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  13. parrillaturi says:

    Wonderful tribute, to such selfless family members. As a Vietnam Era Veteran, I salute them. Thank you fir sharing. Blessings.

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  14. parrillaturi says:

    Oops! Thank you for sharing.

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  15. Touching tribute…for the men in your husband’s family as well as the men in yours who served in other ways.
    All the men in my mother’s family–her brothers, cousins, uncles, grandfather–were Brethren, so they were pacifists. They served as medics, chaplains and with post-war construction in Europe after WW II, taking seeds and animals over on ships and helping farmers replant. One was shot by a sniper as he built a fence for lambs on a farmer’s land. All aspects of war and conflicts have their dangers.

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    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Marylin and also for this fascinating account of your mother’s family. How very true that all aspects of war brings with it its brand of danger. Even by doing something so helpful and so innocent as building a fence to help a farmer brought with it a terrible danger. I wonder if that particular family member survived the sniper’s bullet?

      I find this fascinating for another reason…my granddad, the one who served in the Home Guard and whose job prevented him from going to war, at some point in his life became a Quaker, although nobody else in the family was so far as I know. I still would love to know what my other granddad did.

      Your family served during the war in ways that their faith guided them to and they are thanked and remembered in just the same way for their service and sacrifice.

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  16. mumblypeg says:

    What a moving and thought provoking testimonial to all that suffered during and after the wars to ‘end all wars.’ As I was so young during the war it all seemed a bit exciting to have sleep in the shelter down the garden, which always smelt of fungus: and hear bombs dropping all around in Liverpool. As I have got older I often reflect on how difficult it must have been for the women to provide and cook nutritious meals for their families. How amazing for your man to find out new facts about his uncle during the war. It must make those days seem so much more personal. Well written and recorded. I found it very touching. Thank you for sharing it. xxx

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    • Sherri says:

      Thank you for reading MP and for sharing your very interesting and personal ‘war stories’. It must have been quite something to have slept in a bomb shelter but I’m glad that you were not too scared, some kind of an adventure as you were too young to understand the harsh reality of what was really going on and the danger you were all in.

      The women at home keeping the fires burning are every bit as important as their men who went away to war or who stayed home to do what they could for the war effort, and we must remember them all and be every thankful.

      Blessings.. xoxox

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  17. Pat says:

    You brought them much honor, Sherri, in the sharing of their stories. It was such a different time then and we won’t forget as long as we remember what they did. My dad was a WWII veteran and often talked about the war and what it was like.

    I remember him telling of the time after Hiroshima was bombed — the nuclear bomb that ended the war. His unit was the closest to Japan and they were deployed there to secure a position. He said it was devastating — everything was leveled as far as the eye could see. I can’t imagine how terrible that must have been.

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    • Sherri says:

      That must have been truly devastating for your dad to have witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima and the aftermath. Such dreadful sights witnessed by so many and yes, we must never forget men like your dad and the many others and be ever grateful for their great sacrifice. Thank you Pat.

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  18. Getting chills, Sherri. Precious history, a legacy of honor.

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  19. This is a very moving post Sherri, and all the more so because of your personal stories. I have two uncles, on one my dad’s side and one on mam’s, both of whom were lost in WWII, one missing in action in Burma and the other killed at sea. They died before I was born and I have very little knowledge of them, though the uncle who died at sea was awarded the DSM, which has come into my possession, so it’s another part of my family I want to get to know more about. But I wonder if I’m one of the last generations who will really have any concept of what we’re remembering. War hasn’t ended of course, but those links to the World Wars are becoming more tenuous, I think.

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    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Andrea. I was honoured to be able to share just a very small piece of these men’s war stories. How touching to read of your uncles and their stories, and how sad. My husband has medals from his grandfather and father but I’m not sure if there were any for Uncle Stan.

      Yes, I agree so much, we really are the last link to these personal stories from the generation before us who lived through the World Wars and I do wonder how these memories will remain. That is why it really is so important that we do not ever forget their sacrifice and ensure that the next generation remember also. By writing these memories down as we strive to find out more from our living relatives is the best and only way and I feel that time is pressing down on every side. Even in this day and age with so much that is done electronically, nothing beats the written word and the enduring legacy that is handed down, generation to generation.

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