There is an alternative to red

whiteThere is an alternative to red, and it is white. I wear both, one or other, and none; I do not feel obliged to wear one. I am going to miss Southend-on-Sea’s Remembrance Day commemoration at the Cenotaph on Clifftown Parade this year, but only because a fractured foot prevents me from going. I will, though, in my own quiet way contemplate the sacrifices of those who fought to keep us free from tyranny.

I cannot help but be aware of the huge sacrifices made by the UK’s armed forces. Both my grandparents fought in the First World War.

Arthur Ware Lane volunteered in 1915. Family tradition has it that he was the company chef, but eventually volunteered for action and died in his first battle. This was in Arras; he was recorded as missing presumed killed on 8th May 1917. My father was three years old.

Joseph Frank de Lobel fled to Britain in 1914 when his native Belgium was invaded by the Germans. He then fought to liberate his homeland. He did , however, survive the war and settled in the UK. He married Lily Georgina Rush on 14th September 1918 in Herne Hill (Kent), and his fourth and last child was my mother, born in 1929.

Remembering

I observed my minute’s silence a little earlier than most people today – at 10.30am to be precise. This was because I conducted this show of respect for the fallen in two world wars just before kick-off in my second football game of the season; an affair that ended Playfootball Elite 1 – 3 Ekco Munchengladbach (Southend Sunday League Cup Section B).

I am still clinging on as a referee, just. I approach my infrequent games with a little more apprehension nowadays. My political commitments leave me little time for football, and as the gap between games grows I worry whether I am still up to standard.

As for the remembrance: I have contributed to both red and white poppy funds this year. I rarely wear the poppy, and in fact when I gave to the British Legion this year I did not take one. I am not opposed to them, just not keen on wearing one. Part of this is the ubiquitous nature of them – somehow I am trying to show in my own small way that you can honour the dead without the public display.

As I have written before, my existence owes itself in many ways to the First World War. One grandfather was killed in battle in northern France, the other fled Belgium when it was invaded and fought from his new base in England. My paternal grandfather, who died at Arras aged 26, was largely unknown to my father – dad was just three years old when Arthur was killed. The death, however, had a huge impact in the days before the welfare state. My widowed grandmother and her two surviving children shared two rooms with her brother and his family in crowded conditions that defy my skills in attempting to describe. My father’s poor health (he lost all his teeth through malnutrition and went deaf following a mastoid operation, crushed a leg at fourteen that was nearly amputated, and eventually succumbed to cancer) was in no small part due to the poverty they endured. Grandmother remarried and produced three more kids.

I have Arthur’s framed picture on display at home – a remembrance of a grandfather who gave his life for his country some 42 years before I was born.

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