I’ve just returned from the Remembrance Sunday service in Didsbury where I live. My family have lived in Didsbury for hundreds and hundreds of years. Every street has a story, every shop, every graveyard and every pub.
The pub I do most of my drinking in these days used to be called The Albert, it was renamed a little while ago and is now called The Fletcher Moss. It’s changed a bit obviously, but it’ll always be the pub my Grandad and his mates marched off to war from.
I never knew my Grandad, but I know he didn’t like to talk about the war. I know he fought in North Africa and then spent the last couple of years of the war in the London ambulance service, pulling bodies and parts of bodies out of the crumbled remains of houses. I think it takes a special, brave, resilient kind of person to be able to dig dead babies out of rubble day in and day out. I never met him but I’m bloody proud of him.
Today I shed a tear for two of my Great Uncles, Robert and Stanley Atherton. Their names are on the Didsbury War Memorial. They both died in the First World War, aged no more than 18 when they met their deaths on the muddy, bloody battlefields of France. I can only imagine the untold horror these boys, these children were met with when they got to France. They weren’t even cut down in their prime; they were years off their prime. They didn’t leave behind them wives or girlfriends or children. They were still children themselves, dressed up as men playing at war.
To my knowledge there are no pictures of Robert and Stanley still in existence. Their descendants locally boil down to me and my brother. No one remembers the boys who died in 1917 and 1918. The only thing we have to remember them are their names on a memorial. Theirs is not a unique story, but it’s a story most families have in their past. War touches everyone and continues to aftershock down through the generations.
Today at the war memorial there were a few veterans. Every year there are fewer of these proud, straight-backed men wiping away a tear, laying wreaths and saluting old pals. Around the memorial today there were maybe 200 or more people. A great turn out and main roads were closed to accommodate the crowd.
To me, maybe it’s because I’m a mother, I prefer to remember not just that whole swathes of youth died for their country and for our freedoms today; I prefer to remember them as individuals, each with a story, no matter how short. So tonight when I go to the pub, I’ll walk past the house where Robert and Stanley were born, order a pint at the bar where my Grandad ordered his pints from and I will remember them, not as soldiers, but as brave boys.
Lest We Forget.