Sunday, 13 November 2016

Poppy Day

We always called it Poppy Day. My earliest memories are of grainy black and white TV pictures of hundreds of veterans marching to the Cenaph. The pictures changed from greyscale to HD and the veterans grew old, no longer marched, but were pushed in wheelchairs, and finally the British Expeditionary Force faded away ...


My Aunty's lodger was called Poppy ... He had been gassed in WW1, invalided out, and was too old to fight in WW2. He was billeted on Aunty: an evacuee from the blitz in London. He never returned home.


He was part of my childhood, he died when I was ten. I loved him, I mourned him. I never questioned him. I wished I had, but I was too young to ask. He was the first person I loved to die.


He never spoke of it. . The trenches, the shelling, the gas attack that bought him his passage home to Blighty, Not a word. I know only from the testimony of others.


My Aunty. She was a young and very beautiful widow during the war. I have only whispers of her conquests, but I know of her one true love. His name was Bill, he was in the parachute regiment. They were to marry, but he was killed. I don't think Aunty would have mentioned him, except for a peculiar piece of my own history.


Years after the war, I was about to marry a fellow student. It was 1971, we were young and in love, and of the options on offer, we chose the quirky one:we decided to get married. We had NO money, but I had a reasonable grant that bought the Paisley mini-dress from Marks and Spencer's, my husband-to-be borrowed the license money from my brother Adrian, and we were going to buy 7/6d brass circlet from Woolworth to do us for the wedding ring.


Before the big day, Aunty took me to one side and told me a story about a young airman whom she had loved, and whom she was going to marry the next time he was home on leave. But he never came home. He was killed in action. They had a ring ... Aunty gave me that ring, and Bill's 'wings'.


Both are dead now. Aunty never remarried, and I often wondered why. I do not know Bill's other name, but today, as I look down to the third finger on my left hand, I remember him.


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