IT’S THE DAY BEFORE Armistice Day and I had to go see my accountant in Harrow and take a short cut, through the park and via a cemetery. It’s a short cut, normally.
An extraordinary thing happened. As I was being soaked by cold cold rain, I saw a four by four – no not a tank, you fool – slowly drive down the cemetery main road, and a chap wound down the window and said to me: “Could you spare me 10 minutes, I am looking for a grave?”
The man had a map of the local Harrow graveyard and he was on a mission to honour a certain World War One chap called Finch, who fought for the 4th Hussars and who was highly decorated. I hadn’t realised that detailed maps of graveyards existed with names and that. So I helped the man, who had served 28 years of distinguished service in the Hussars, on his quest to put a wreath on the ex-soldier’s grave.
Alas, there was no headstone but we located where Finch had been laid down. My job was to take a photograph of the decorated alive soldier honouring former members of the regiment, standing where the gravestone should have been and putting a wreath next to Finch’s grave. The cemetery has been vandalised with everything higgledy-piggledy and topsy turvey as well tuti-puti.
Job done, we fell to chatting about my job in Bangalore. Transpired the soldier was on a mission to go to India and to Egypt, where the Hussars had fought. In the first case, the Hussars apparently helped to suppress the “Indian Mutiny” which I was at pains to point out is now called the First War of Indian Independence. The soldier had just come back from Russia, where apparently the Fourth Hussars fought too – perhaps at Sebastopol, in the Crimea? The second world war in Russia is now called, of course, the Great Patriotic War.
This was all rather strangely moving. The man was clearly on what he considered to be a sacred mission to track down former heroes in the Hussars, and register their presence. As I said to him, I was born in 1949, and so had been the luckiest soul to escape major wars, unlike my parents and their parents before me. I have never been pitched into battle, except in the famous “laundry wars” of Ole Bengaluru. I can hardly conceive what war is like, although my Uncle Joe not only had to swim back to a barque from Dunkirk, and then had to fight Rommel’s troops in the Second World War as a member of the “Desert Rats”.
Dear Uncle Joe could hardly be persuaded to talk by me, when I was a five or six year old of the horrors in the desert but when he did, he told me of his best mate destroyed by a Stuka bomb right next to him, and how they were given unlimited amounts of alcohol and amphetamines to keep them going. The “laundry wars” hardly equate, do they? ♥