The last journey
First there was the walk along the canal with my Wife. The air was filled with the sound of chirping birds and the wonderful smell of rotting leaves. The pallid autumnal sunshine was breaking through the clouds and casting an amazing light on the path through the trees.
it was only after I’d dashed the last 500 yards to catch my train after leaving my Wife at a footbridge over the Basingstoke canal and boarded the train that it suddenly hit me.
This is the last time I’ll make the journey. Gosh. I stood there for a few minutes. (Yes, no seats available at that time in the morning already – even though it is half-term school holidays.)
Next I pulled out the generic fruit-named tablet device to watch some BBC iPlayer catch up TV. I was working my way through an episode of Who Do You Think You Are, with BBC TV presenter Anita Rani.
Wow. What a story. I had no idea just how bad ‘partition’ was between India and Pakistan when India declared independence from Britain in 1947.
Utterly horrific stories came to light. It was quite an emotional roller-coaster for her finding out about her relatives and their back story. I highly recommend you watch the episode and see for yourself.
The Gurkhas at Waterloo Station
Arriving in London’s Waterloo station, I made my way through the ticket barriers and started for the usual exit for the 20 minute walk to our office on the Southbank. That’s when the sound of a band broke the normal murmur of human voices.
The stirring sound of Adele’s Skyfall lapped over the throngs of people on the station concourse. I made my way over to where they were playing.
Turns out this was the Royal Gurkha Rifles Band. They were magnificent. Particularly when three of them arrived in front of the band and performed a dance routine with their Khukuris.
The music and dance stirred my emotions and many of those around me. What an awesome feeling. Live music does that to me.
Here’s a clip of the dance sequence. Remarkable.
But that’s not all. Turns out, and I was oblivious to all this beforehand, that today marks London Poppy Day. The fabulous Royal British Legion, the Green Berets and the Gurkhas were all on hand to raise much needed funds for veterans of the Armed Services.
As I left the station, with my brand new poppy in hand, and started along the south bank of the Thames toward the office, I had to stop.
A throwback to my youth
You see, I was welling up inside. I was almost in tears. Why is it I always get so emotional at this time of year?
Could it be something to do with the fact we are about to move house? Perhaps it has something to do with the lack of sunlight as the nights draw in?
Or could it be that I find Remembrance Day and the red poppy in particular so evocative? What it presents moves me. It moves me deeply. Very deeply. We were not a military family. But the Second World War did have an effect on the family.
The closest I have come to the military involved spending 6 1/2 years in the (Royal Air Force) Air Cadets. That was an awesome experience. I learned a lot as a young lad growing up in the Cadets.
There were camps on RAF bases around the country. Hours spent on the firing range. Many hours spent marching up and down the parade ground on a Sunday afternoon. Sure there was the discipline, but there was also a lot more.
My first serious girlfriend. Qualifying as a (glider) pilot aged 16, before I could drive a car. And lots lots more.
It’s about gratitude
What came flooding back this morning however was a different memory. A vivid one. I’m stood yards from my brother. We are either side of the War Memorial in the rural Herefordshire town where our Grandparents lived. Dressed in our “Number 1” uniform, complete with white gloves, peaked caps and highly-polished shoes.
You see, we were the Guard of Honour at the Memorial for the annual Remembrance Day parade. My Dad and his Dad standing across the road from us in the crowd, brimming with pride.
That’s when I realised what I was feeling this morning:
- a sense of great pride to have been born in this wonderful country and to be British
- a great debt of gratitude to those who gave their lives so that we might live in freedom
- and a humbling sense of awe at being alive and having my feelings and senses intact to take in moments like the one in Waterloo Station today.
I arrived at the office calm, feeling a bit tender and emotional, but full of gratitude. And happiness.
We will remember them!
To end this post, it seems only fitting to share the evocative and memorable words of Robert Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem, ‘For the Fallen’.
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.