"God and the soldier we alike adore,
In time of danger, not before
The danger passed and all things righted
God is forgotten , the soldier slighted."
When I was a lad, at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month everything stopped; the buses, the cars and the people. I was about seven; we were taught that this was a special day. I remember some submariners, far from home, came to our house for tea one day. My Dad told me they didn't survive the war. So I used to think of them. Then it all stopped; at least nobody seemed to stop anymore. Remembrance was not in vogue, patriotism was simply jingoism - we were only glorifying war.
Now, fifty years on, I am part of a group trying to produce pen pictures of all of those named on the war memorials in and around Morecambe and Lancaster - all 2,500 of them. Initial details are obtained from official sources, but it is the stories of friends and relatives, from their memories and archives, which make the names live.
Like Herbert Dumbleton, a sailor from Carnforth who kept a diary. A small extract:
"The next operation was the battle of Crete. The fleet left Alex and made their way towards Crete. During the night of 23rd May approx we were detailed to intercept convoys from Greece, around the NW coast of Crete. We did our damage and it was not so pleasant but it had to be done."
He was lost at sea on 1 March 1944. His brother, still living in Carnforth, treasures the diary.
Edward Bibby, a Morecambe Grammar School boy, was a Second Lieutenant in the East Lancs, a parachute Battalion. He landed in France on D Day. They captured Ranville, the first French village to be liberated. Then came a ferocious action.
Contemporary accounts record the following;
From The Commanding Officer: ". . B Company went straight up the hill, with A in support, and they stormed into the German positions with the bayonet, and advanced to the very top of the hill. Then suddenly, they were counter attacked, and a well sited machine gun opened up, seriously wounding Major Tarrant and Lt Bibby who were leading their men with the utmost gallantry"
And from the The Padre: "Man after man went down, but the remainder never faltered, but pushed steadily forward in spite of vicious torrents of fire. But it was costly and it became apparent that the possibility of getting established at the top of the hill was very remote. Some did reach the top, fought in the enemy positions. Lt Bibby did that with one section but failed to return"
Robert Fawcett was a Lancaster Bomber rear gunner. His daughter Anne has his flying log book; the last poignant entry reads:
"...Failed to return". Anne was born three months after he was lost and remembers with great affection that local farmers, knowing she had never known her Father, used to leave pats of butter and other goods on the doorstep for her and 5 other children in similar circumstances.
In 1915, immediately after qualifying as a nurse, Clementina Addison went straight to Verdun to tend the soldiers in the trenches. A newspaper of the time records:
"Nurse Addison returned to England on the 3rd of March, utterly broken down by the arduous tasks she had so willingly undertaken, ever speaking cheerfully, whilst knowing she had such a short time left, and constantly referring to the way the soldiers at Verdun bore their sufferings."
Soldiers from the local Battalion attended her funeral; hers is the first name on the Caton War Memorial.
Times thankfully are changing. At the eleventh hour, almost the entire Nation pause to ponder the enormity of the sacrifice that ordinary men and women have made, and continue to make, in conflict. As for me, I still remember the sub mariners, and my friend Mike killed in the Falklands. And I think of Herbert Dumbleton writing his diaries, of Robert Fawcett dreaming of a new baby. I picture Edward Bibby leading his men with gallantry and dying in the process. I think of the Florence Nightingale of Verdun, Clementina Addison.
And I have a Lump in my throat.