Lest We Forget
In memory of my uncle, Frank Philips, Scots Guards, killed Oct 1914, aged 20. On that day 1200 from his regiment went over the top, only 80 answered the roll call at day's end.
Ordinary Hero story submitted by Kath O'Sullivan
It’s shocking to see a grown up cry when you are only a child. I don’t mean the sort of crying you do when you fall and graze your knees, or when your cousin, Jack, teases you, nor that yelling, kicking kind of crying that comes from a temper tantrum. This was a silent; sobless sort of crying, which was only apparent when I noticed a small tear trace a snail’s trail down Granny's cheek. I reached for her hand, her warm friendly hand, which enfolded my small one naturally. She gave my fingers a squeeze, and I knew that everything was all right. She still loved me.
We were standing on a grassy slope that overlooked a natural amphitheatre in our city park, watching a Military Tattoo. Only a few moments before, the area had echoed to the sound of rifle fire as distant soldiers fought a mock war below us. Our nostrils still burned from the cordite stink, which small explosives produce.
Then without warning the fighting ended, the players withdrew, and the spectators were left gazing at a tall, solitary pole, from which a flag hung limply in the still autumn air. Beside it stood two soldiers clad in dress uniform, their scarlet jackets bright as newly shed blood, their brass buttons glittering and shimmering with reflected light, the creases in their navy trousers sharp as the blade of an ancient sword. The one on the right held a silver bugle close to his side whilst the other gripped a rope attached to the flag.
Slowly the bugler raised his instrument to his lips. I could almost hear his intake of breath and feel the bulge of his cheeks as he prepared to blow. As if obeying some telepathic command the spectators scrambled to their feet. For an age there was utter silence. The world stopped turning as if it awaited some awful reminder of days long gone. When at last the soldier began to play, the plaintive notes from his silver bugle echoed and re-echoed around the arena. The spectators gazed transfixed as the second soldier began slowly, oh so slowly, to lower the flag.
The sound of the bugle filled me with a great sadness and I watched in bewilderment as a second tear glistened in the corner of her eye. Her fingers continued to grip mine warmly, but I could sense that she was far away. The sad slow notes continued to pour forth and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck start to rise. The huge crowd around us was silent and still, as if under a hypnotist’s spell. When I shuffled my feet, to release some of the tension, I felt the pressure of her fingers tighten and a slight tug on my arm warned me to stay still.
The notes died, the spectators breathed again, and the soldier lowered his instrument, only to raise it to his lips once more as he began another bugle call. This time, when he played a song of hope, which dispelled the heavy cloud of despair. I felt her fingers move. Gazing up I saw that she had straightened her back and was holding her head proudly in a manner that would befit a queen. Her free hand had strayed to the two medals pinned on her navy jacket and as I watched, she smoothed them gently with her fingers while yet another tear journeyed down the soft peach skin of her cheek.
When I sniffed in sympathy medals and tears were forgotten as she reached down with a white handkerchief and whispered, ‘Blow!’