That’s more than some peoples' lifetimes. And yet, here I am today, having my mind drawn back to a specific incident in the Second World War of which, at the time, I knew nothing, and then pulled forward to the present, to an episode with which I am horribly familiar.
I knew there was a war on. Of course I did. Every kid in the street knew something about it. I remember hearing Herr Hitler ranting in a radio broadcast relayed by the BBC to our national broadcaster. I remember the time two Jap midget subs crept into our Harbour – the cheek! – and attempted to sink two US battleships. I remember the city streets swarming with Yank sailors; my dad approached one for some lead from which to fashion a propeller for a toy motor yacht he was building for me. The sailor was a Negro, and he returned next day with Dad’s lead.
I heard nothing about the war in the Northern Hemisphere. I was too young to read the papers, except for Blondie. So I didn’t know about the sinking of the mighty German battleship Bismarck in May of 1941.
The years passed. I met my present partner. Turns out that back in ‘39 her dad Doug had been seconded from the RAN to the RN for the duration, along with the Australian ship on which he served.
No, he wasn’t involved in sinking the Bismarck. Sorry.
Anyway, Doug grew older, and as he aged he became grumpier and grumpier until, in recent times, my partner and her sister have become just about completely fed-up with him. He is now, at 93, bedridden in a nursing home, and we expect his death at any time. He has become so unpopular with his daughters, they say there’ll be no funeral, just a burning and dumping of the remains. So as not to create waves, I went along with this.
And then, earlier today, I was browsing the net. I was looking for old songs. I came across a Youtube featuring Johnny Horton’s 1960 version of Sink the Bismarck. Like many of these oldies, there’s no actual film/video footage, and in this case the clever compiler has gathered a collection of oil paintings and photos of WW2 sea battles and used them skilfully as backdrops for the music track.
So here I am, looking at these paintings from 70 years ago, and thinking, “Doug could have been on one of those ships.” And it caused me to think a bit differently. I don’t care what my partner and her sister believe. Doug did his bit in the War, and I take my hat off to him.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning,We will remember them. Lest we forget.