Today was Remembrance Day and I happened to be in the supermarket at 11 a.m., when it was time for the minute’s silence. As the lonely sound of Taps drew to a close, the last mournful notes echoing through the store, I suddenly remembered a story my father told me many years ago.
He was born shortly after the outbreak of World War 1, the so called Great War – the War to End All Wars. A couple of months before the armistice in 1918, the little four-year-old boy lay quietly on the lawn, watching the clouds as they drifted slowly across the western sky.
Suddenly, to his amazement, the sky was filled with the sights and sounds of battle. Soldiers fired from the trenches, their shouts and cries distinctly audible as dusk began to fall. Mesmerised, he watched this vision, unable to tear himself away until it faded.
Tremendously excited, he picked himself up from the lawn, brushed the dirt and stray blades of grass from his knickerbockers and ran inside. His aunt was standing alone in the parlour and he cried out to her, the words tumbling over each other as he described what he had seen. She looked at him uncomprehendingly and he repeated himself, more slowly this time.
“Auntie! I saw soldiers in the sky! The soldiers fighting in the sky!”
She turned on him, slapping him, and in an icy voice told him to go to his room. Frightened and confused, he obeyed, hurt that he was being punished for sharing his amazing news.
It was not until much later that he learned the reason behind her angry response. At the very moment he had experienced his vision of battle, his aunt had been reading the telegram that informed her of her husband’s death at the Front.
As he told me his tale, his eyes misted over, the memory poignant and filled with sadness. It had been so vivid, such a powerful experience, but no-one had believed him. For who believes a four-year-old child when he speaks of seeing battles in the sky?
These thoughts filled my mind as I stood, silent in the middle of the supermarket, surrounded by peace and plenty. I thought of the young lives lost in the futility of war, of the feeble attempts of politicians to glorify the suffering and death under the aegis of nation-building.
I thought of the little boy who saw visions, of the man he had become – a man who in his turn went to war and returned, irreparably broken.
Lest we forget.