I met this family on a train a few years ago.
Partly because the 6 year old lad across the table, after seeing what was on my laptop screen, screamed at the top of his voice “THERE’S A JELLYFISH ON YOUR LAPTOP!” and partly because when the teenage lad, all puffed up and moody 17 year old, offered his mother a stream of profanity over something and nothing I was just in the right sort of entitled confident mood to tell him with enough determination that at least outloud in public he’d do better to keep a civil tongue in his head. It’s a high risk strategy, I accept, I don’t make a habit of it.
But in this instance it worked, the mother appreciated the modest intervention. She was tired. Her 12 year old daughter, all bright precociousness, told me that they were going to a huge castle in the country, they’d been before, but it was a really long train journey and they had had to get up early and so their mother was tired and grumpy. The mum smiled the weary ‘when is the earliest I can have a glass of wine and is it that time yet’ sort of smile that I remember my mother having.
Over the next two hours I got to know them, their story unfolded first through the ridiculous honest babbling monologue of the two youngest that on more than one occasion caused me to catch my breath at the childish transparency of it all “Dad got killed in the war two years ago”, then through the mother who seemed thankful for the additional distraction for the kids that my company meant “this weekend away is organised by the charity that looks after families like ours, it’s a god send, its the only weekend I relax” and then somewhat unlikely with the eldest once he realised that our backgrounds weren’t a million miles apart, “they get it, the other kids at this place, they understand”.
There were families in similar situations, dealing with the loss of a father, a husband, who they would spend the weekend with. Who they had been spending this weekend with for as many years as there had been since it happened. People who understood.
They were a lovely family. Genuinely lovely people dealing with something horrible.
I think of them often, something will remind me, or I’ll hear that sing song borders Scottish accent and “There’s a jellyfish on your laptop” will come back to me. That conversation, and how its stayed with me all this time, is one of the reasons why I started looking into the Soldiers’ Charity.
When I worked on the commemoration of the Battle of the Somme a couple of years ago we opened with a reading of No Man is an Islande. It wasn’t a decision that was understood by all, various civil servants and others confused by a poem written hundreds of years before the event we were commemorating. I know I did a bad job of explaining it; I couldn’t find the words to explain anything that I found simply so self-evident. I feel the same “but duh” trying to formulate opposing arguments after reading one of the increasingly regular columns about how the writer shouldn’t have to contribute to the upkeep of the wounded and bereft of our armed forces.
It is perfectly possible, as many comrades of mine do, to maintain a principled opposition to any specific or all general conflict and still realise the collective responsibilities to our armed forces, to support the rehabilitation of the wounded and the care of the families left behind. This recent flurry of “why should my bit of public money go on something I don’t like” pieces arrive on a foul wind that brings no good to anyone. No man is an islande.
In an ideal world our veterans and their families would be provided for fully by the Government, our collective responsibility demonstrated through properly distributed taxes that were sufficient to the demand. Charity is a cold thing as Atlee had it. Maybe. But there are colder things.
The military covenant is the bond between a military force and the community it serves and is drawn from. Most simply expressed it is the promise that whilst we ask them to do that which we would not or could not ourselves do in return we vow to treat them with dignity if the worst should happen and take on the responsibility of caring for their family if they should fall in our service.
That covenant is not being met. It hasn’t for some time now. It should not, like so much in our society, be left to charity. But it is. The Soldiers’ Charity does good work. They run a thing called the Cateran Yomp which is a sponsored walk, of sorts.
54 miles over the Scottish Highlands in 24 hours. FIFTY FOUR MILES! Holy hell. It is a substantial undertaking. Team Yorkshire Yompers has started training all ready. And on 9th and 10th June we’re going to get it done. If you have the resources to sponsor us please do, it would be so appreciated. If you can’t then spreading the word would be just as appreciated. http://fundraising.soldierscharity.org/Yorkshireyompers
Any amount would help. Thank you.
No Man is an Islande eh.
And there’s a jellyfish on your laptop.