It was the 20th anniversary of my father’s death that triggered this blog. A former Royal Marine, he was awarded the Burma Star for operational service in Burma during the second world war. Throughout his life he was a proud member of the Royal Naval and Burma Star Association and regularly took part in their activities. In his late 70’s, he died in the UK, the day before Remembrance Day. We were heartbroken.
Dad was born and raised in the heart of the Midlands and joined the marines in his teens. Like many young men of the day, he hadn’t travelled far from home and had no experience at sea. No matter, it was wartime and being a member of the UK’s Commando Force and the Royal Navy’s amphibious troops appealed.
Following his basic training he served on several ships including HMS Phoebe, a light cruiser he was particularly fond of. He wanted to name his first-born Phoebe in memory of this ship, fortunately my mother put her foot down. My sister Linda considers this a near miss and is forever grateful.
Dad saw active service in the Far East, Egypt and in various countries the Mediterranean including Malta. As children, we were enthralled with his stories of life at sea. We loved to spend time looking at his photos in various uniforms; his regular uniform, dress uniform – the one got married in, and the tropical gear he wore in India, Ceylon, Burma and Egypt. Looking at each photo brought back treasured memories, he could recall where he was at the time the picture was taken and could name the other guys he was with at the time. It all sounded exotic and fun to us kids. I wish we had written all of this down.
While he enjoyed the camaraderie life in the service provides, and his time at sea and abroad, it wasn’t an easy occupation, either during the heat of the war, or post-war as our family lived in the Midlands. Dad signed up for the long-term, he wasn’t conscripted. He was released from service when he contracted tuberculosis. A sick man, it took two years for him to recover during which time my mother went back to work to support the family.
Remembrance Day was very important to my dad – lest we forget. I am reminded of the poem by John McCrae “In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow. Between the crosses, row on row. That mark our place, and in the sky. The larks, still bravely singing, fly. Scarce heard amid the guns below”. My dad, as the saying goes, is always on my mind, forever in my heart.