by Gill James
half a pint of porter
I did know you but I didn’t know anything about you as a soldier. Or very little anyway. Emily said that for a few months after you came back you’d wake up screaming in the night. She didn’t tell me of course. She’d have thought that I was too little to understand or that I shouldn’t hear about horrid things like that. You know how grown-ups can be around children some times. I overheard her telling someone else.
Actually, I doubt that you told either Doris or Emily much more. My father, as you know, also became a soldier in the next war and he didn’t say much about that either.
You Great War veterans bottled it up. Suffered in silence. They’ve got a name for it now and at least modern soldiers get some help.
I think of you now when I read accounts of what it was like. The mud, the lice, the constant noise. You never said whether you saw any of your mates killed. But then, why would you tell a little girl that?
I can’t imagine what it was like when you suffered the gas attack. Did you know that Doris and Emily thought it caused your cancer? They reckoned the gas weakened your lungs. I thought of you as old when you died but goodness, I’m nearly as old now, quite fit and intending to live a few more decades yet.
I’m reading a lot of the accounts now because I have a Great War soldier in the novel I’m writing. It helps me to understand why you found such pleasure in those ordinary things afterwards – bringing us an early morning cup of tea on Christmas Day, arguing with me about whose face was reflected in the Easter egg box and enjoying a beer with Ron and Harold on Boxing Day.
Were you brave? If you were scared, then you were brave.
So, I buy my poppy every year and think of all the young men and women killed or damaged by war and of all those people who have lost a loved one. Of course, I think especially of you.
Your loving granddaughter,