Sunday, 13 November 2011

We will remember

The official Remembrance Day in England is today, the second Sunday in November, and has been for a good many years. I always think it a shame that we no longer stop the country at 11.00 on 11 November, although there is a growing movement to return to that tradition. The move to a Sunday for the services of remembrance means that the Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance is always held on the eve of Remembrance Day. This takes the form of a small military tattoo in the Royal Albert Hall in London followed by a service of remembrance during which there is a two-minute silence while poppy petals are dropped from the roof of the hall - one for each serviceman killed in action since 1914. Before the entertainment part, squads representing the various branches of the armed forces march into the arena and take their seats. I always find the entrance of the war widows especially moving and it always leads me to think of Nell.

I was still living with my parents when Nell, her mother and her son moved into the house next door. Nell and her mother were Londoners. Not Cockneys - they came from the wrong side of the Thames, from Bermondsey. They could just as easily have been Cockneys, demonstrating the same joie de vivre and loving a good knees-up with a crate of stout. Nell had two sisters, one of whom lived just a couple of miles away across the valley and the other of whom (together with her husband) later bought a bungalow down our road. Oddly, whereas Nell was always cheerful, Charlotte - the one who bought the bungalow - seemed permanently miserable.

Nell and Charlotte (Lottie) had married brothers and Lottie's husband owned a garage in Hove. Lottie was the manageress of a supermarket and it was she who gave me a job to get me off my paper round. But that's another story.

Nell's husband was a Second Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry and was killed in North Africa in 1942: he never saw his son, Alan, who was the same age as me. Nell never remarried and raised Alan on her own, working as a barmaid to earn a living.

Alan went on to attend university and landed a good job with IBM. He was transferred to the USA so Nell saw her two grandchildren only infrequently - and even less frequently after Alan's marriage broke down. Alan was transferred again, this time to Japan. It was in Tokyo that he died.

Despite the loss of her son and the death of her mother, Nell remained unfailingly cheerful, although Parkinson's disease was by now making life uncomfortable and difficult. It was always a pleasure, whenever I visited my mother, to call in to spend a few minutes with Nell.

Nell would have been horrified at any suggestion that she should take part in anything like the Festival of Remembrance which would entail a public display. To her, grieving was something done in private. Nell's life was not an easy one but she showed many of us how to face up to problems and defeat them. I have no picture to commemorate Nell but the following is taken from the web site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

In Memory of

214646, 8th Bn., Durham Light Infantry

who died
age 28

on 12 June 1942

Son of Alexander Christopher and Frances Maude Gaze, of Bermondsey, London; husband of Emily Eleanor Gaze, of Portslade-by-Sea. Sussex.

Remembered with honour


Commemorated in perpetuity by
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

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