A Portrait of Fear

Tomorrow would have been my Dad’s Birthday. He was born on the 1st April 1925. I was, indeed am, very proud of him. This is a poem that he wrote about his experiences in World War Two, when he served with The Suffolk Regiment. Despite his long career in the British Army, when he served with REME, The Suffolk Regiment remained “his” Regiment until the end of his life, and when he died, the Suffolk Regiment roses, one red, one yellow, were placed in the ground with his casket of ashes. He was a soldier to the end.

                                                                A PORTRAIT OF FEAR

(Battle of the Rhineland 2nd phase February 1945)

 

You form up for battle, and march to the start line

And that’s where you wait ‘til the time set to go.

That’s where you sweat, with fear and foreboding,

Knowing the past, and knowing the foe.

Spread out in the forest, we kneel in formation,

But first we must fight with our innermost fears.

The chill in the stomach that turns to ice – water

We never will know it in subsequent years.

The barrage commences, the shells pass above you

Please God let me live to go home again.

Or will I lie dead? fingers curled in the forest

We all want to live, despite all the pain.

Death used to strike in the Normandy summer,

Now it is here, in the mud and the rain.

Who will remember when this is all over?

Will I survive to go home again?

You’re scared of the Spandaus, the Mortars, the shellfire,

What wouldn’t you give to be somewhere else.

What stops you from going is letting down comrades

Disgracing your parents, disgracing yourself.

It’s time to go forward, time to stop dreaming

Just pick up your Bren gun and smile at your friends.

Shake out in formation, move forward together

Under the barrage, whatever the end.

Bren slung at the hip, you advance through the forest,

The fear now subsides as you get on the move

Spread out and wary, and looking all round us

We all trust each other, we have nothing to prove.

Don’t talk about courage, we would laugh if you said it

It’s no place for heroes in the poor PBI

Just keep up with Chalky and Knobby and Dusty,

Knowing that someone is shortly to die.

Step over the Germans that were caught in the barrage

Wounded or dead, we keep on our way

We can’t see their comrades, belting out tracer

It’s speed of reaction that will save you this day.

PART TWO, 50 YEARS ON.

We never forget our mates that sustained us

The grin on their faces, but always the strain

Some lie ‘neath their headstones, still young and still serving

Our bonds still exist as we go there again.

GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS

THAT HE LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS

(Remembrance hymn after WW I and WWII, banned by some clergy.)

Oh Valiant hearts, who to your glory came

Through dust and conflict and through battle flame

Tranquil you lie, your manly virtue proved

Your memory hallowed in the land you loved.

 

This hymn is denied us by priests with no feeling

They don’t have to tell us that war was a sin

We know cos we’ve been there, we know cos we’ve seen it

We know the true cost much better than him.

But man can show virtues that Christ would approve

He did not live without any pain

His message was love, that Knobbie and Chalky

Shared with his mates again and again.

And what of those Germans that tried hard to kill us?

They too said “Our Father”, those Huns of the press

If wounded so badly they whimpered for “Mutti”

Young men call for Mother in times of distress.

Kill or be killed is the law both sides follow

But good men show love to the hurt and the maimed

Both sides had such good men with Christian upbringing

When they come to their maker, they are not ashamed.

I hoped that those days are left far behind us

But small wars ensure that the madness remains.

Young men crossed the line again in the Falklands,

Will it continue again and again?

We prayed that our children will never have known this

The sound of the shells as they pass up above

The fear in the gut that tries to engulf you

Life is for living, life is for love.

By George Fouracres, one time C.Coy, Ist BN Suffolk Regt.

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My Dad, the soldier.

My Dad, the soldier..

My Dad, the soldier.

In a few days time, I will be remembering my Dad’s birthday, followed in just over a day, by the anniversary of his death.

Born into a very poor family, and one of seven children, George Denis Fouracres came into the world already suffering from rickets. His mother must have been very malnourished. Denis, as he was known in the family, was a bright child. In the street where he lived was a small chapel. Above the door was an inscription, “God is Love”. Denis, of course, could not read, He was only three, but he had an intelligence far beyond his years. They were not a particularly religious family, but he had heard of God. He asked his mother what the words above the door said. She read it to him, pointing to each word in turn. He said he thought “Oh, that’s what God means, it means Love…God is love”. As I said, a very bright child.

He did quite well at school, as far as it went in those days, but at fourteen he left school, and started work, in order to help his mother support the family. I think his first job was as a porter in The Bristol Royal Infirmary. He told me that when he was on nights, it could be very eery, especially when a ward had summoned him to transfer a patient to “Ward Thirteen.” This was the name given to the mortuary. They didn’t really like the other patients knowing that somebody had died, so they used “Ward Thirteen” in case another patient overheard the telephone conversation.

The route to the mortuary included some quite dark tunnel-like corridors, and his imagination used to work overtime. Not surprising, really, as at aged fourteen, he really was just a boy.

When he was sixteen, he lied about his age, and joined the Army. It was 1941. The Second World war had been raging for two years, and he wanted to be part of it. To him, it was a big adventure, exciting, and an amazing thing to take part in. He described how later, on the eve of their crossing over to France, they sat on the cliff top, just by the memorial to the young men who had left from there in the First World War, but who had lost their lives, and had never made it back to their loved ones. Suddenly it didn’t seem so exciting. He was beginning to grow up. Fast. 

The war was to be the period of his life that held most importance in his life. He had to deal with the loss of several good friends, whilst still trying to do his best as a soldier. No time for grieving then… that would come later, after the war.

In June1947, he and my mother married, and by December 1950 they had two babies. I was the eldest, at 18 months, and my brother was newly born. They were struggling to provide a home for us. They didn’t have much, in fact really didn’t expect much. They had both grown up in large, impoverished families. Britain was still trying to recover from the war. Food and clothing were rationed. The few bits Mum and Dad had were passed down from other members of the family. We all lived in the front room of the small terraced house that Mum’s brother rented and lived in, with his wife and children. My cot was two chairs pushed together.

Mum hated living there, and every day when Dad went to his job in a local factory, she would pile her two babies into the pram, and walk to her Mother’s house, only going home in time for my Dad’s return from work. I think that inevitably, living in such cramped conditions took a toll. Mum was depressed, Dad was constantly worried about how he could support us. Things were pretty bad.

One day he came home and told my Mum that he had rejoined the Army. This time as a Regular soldier, and that he had signed on for twenty two years. She was furious, angry and upset, and refused to listen when he explained that he had done it for her, and for us. She went up to her mother, crying, and for the first time, her mother took my Dad’s side, and told my Mum she had two bairns to think about, and that she should get on with it.

Later, Mum admitted that joining up was the best thing he ever did. Life for Army families meant a lot of moving house. In her case “marching in” to some pretty filthy quarters, and a couple of years later “marching out” of the immaculate home she had made for us.

Dad had been right. In the Army, we were guaranteed a house, with furniture, crockery, bedding…everything we could possibly need. Life was good.

World War One had been dubbed “The war to end all wars”. Twenty one years later people must have been stunned when they realised they had gone through all that, and now it was starting again. I think my Mother hadn’t felt able to trust that there wouldn’t be another war, a Third world war, and that was why she was so upset. That and the prospect of leaving her Mother.

Dad went to Egypt during the Suez crisis, but apart from that we counted ourselves lucky. He was part of a peacetime force. There was no fighting for him, and for that I’m so grateful. When he left the Army in 1972 the troubles in Northern Ireland were starting up again, though I always felt they had been simmering away just under the surface since about 1918. Thankfully we didn’t have to worry about him being deployed out there.

After the Army, Dad worked at Colchester Institute, teaching vehicle mechanics and Electrics. When he retired it was to a small village in Shropshire. After Mum died in 2001, he struggled to cope with his grief, and eventually informed us that he was going to have a trial six weeks stay in a British Legion home in Norfolk. After a week, he asked the matron if he could stay, He’d found somewhere he could be happy. A bonus was that there were other men who had shared his experiences of the Army in war and in peace. 

Dad had a stroke as he was getting dressed on the day after his birthday. He was 78 years old. He was a kind man. He was quiet, and quite reserved . He had a wry sense of humour. And right up until the end of his life, he was a soldier. 

I think about my Dad often. I miss him a lot. I knew him as a loving Dad, but when I see him in my mind’s eye, even, right at the end of his life, I see a soldier, still serving.

What happened to you, fostered child?

What happened to you, fostered child?.

What happened to you, fostered child?

Dear Fostered child,

You came into my life, and my home like a whirlwind. Aged three, blonde, pretty, and confident, you arrived late one afternoon, with very little notice. The fact that you’d never been away from your mother before didn’t seem to worry you. neither did the fact that you’d spent time with a social worker you’d never met, and now had been brought to a stranger’s house where you’d have to spend the next few weeks.

The toys that littered the sitting room floor didn’t really interest you much. You ignored them whilst you ran round the bungalow examining every room, before running in, climbing up on my lap and giving me a big hug. When you wanted my attention, you grabbed my face with both hands, and turned it towards you. You talked a lot, but your speech patterns were those of a younger child. “Where my bed? My sleeping there?”

At bedtime, I waited for the inevitable tears. After all, this had been a very traumatic day. I sat on your bed and read you a story, then explained that your Mummy would phone you the next day, and would come to see you soon. You didn’t really react to that very much, just settled down and went to sleep.

The next day, it was as if you’d always lived with us. You didn’t ask for your mother, or talk about her, and I began to wonder what sort of relationship you had with her. When she phoned she was very brusque with me, didn’t ask how you had been, just said she would like to speak to you.

You chatted happily to her, telling her where you’d been and what you’d been doing, then suddenly dropped the phone and ran off to play. no goodbye or tears. When I picked up the phone your mother said she’d be visiting as soon as she could. She seemed hostile towards me, but I could understand it. In her mind I was part of the establishment that had taken you away from her. I wasn’t to be trusted, and she was going to make sure I didn’t take your love and affection away from her.

The first time she visited, she came with her boyfriend. She grudgingly said hello, and asked where you were. When told you were in the garden, she went to the door and called your name. I’ll never forget your reaction. A look of delight and surprise lit up your face, and you launched yourself into her arms, covering her face with kisses, and asking “Where you been?”followed swiftly by “I sleeped here” and most touchingly,”This my Jennie”.

Over the next few weeks, my relationship with your mother slowly developed, as she learned to trust me, and realised I wasn’t trying to take her place in your life. Ironically, that brought its own problems, as she started to take advantage of the fact that you seemed happy with us. Suddenly it didn’t seem so important to her to come and see you when she said she would.

When she missed a promised visit for the second time, I confronted her on the phone and told her that she was the most important person in your life, that you needed her, and that she needed to keep her promises to you. She reacted like a very hostile teenager, but the next day she rang back, and apologised, telling me that she knew you were happy with us, and so it hadn’t seemed such a big deal when she hadn’t managed to come and see you.

The next few weeks were spent preparing you to go back home, and reminding your Mum she needed to visit as often as she could. When the great day came for you to go back home, you left as you’d arrived, a whirlwind who dashed backwards and forwards to the car with your belongings. You had to be reminded to come and say goodbye, which you did by jumping into my arms and wrapping your legs around my waist. “I love you my Jennie” you said, then ran off to the car without a backward glance.

I wondered if I’d ever hear from you again. Your mother had said she’d keep in touch, but I didn’t hold out much hope that she would. I was right. I never heard from you again.

You’d be about thirty now, I think. I hope your life was happy. When I imagine you now, I think of your Mum. You looked so much like her. So that’s how I imagine you now. Pretty, a bit scatty, perhaps with children of your own. I wonder if you ever knew that once, for a few months, you were part of another family. Did your Mum ever tell you? …

 

My husband and other animals.

Last September we had to accept that out lovely old cat had reached the end of her long life, and we took her to have her put to sleep. She was twenty three, so very old in cat terms, but it didn’t make it any easier.

She was actually my cat, but as soon as she and my husband met, she became his…. or rather, he became hers. I was usually the one who fed her, but his was the comfy lap she preferred. She would nag him until he sat in his armchair, so she could get up on him. If a cat could be in love with a human, then Izzie was in love with Mike….and I think the feeling was mutual.

Needless to say, we both miss her a lot. We have stopped expecting her to be there asking for food when we get up, but each of us still occasionally still have those episodes when our minds play tricks, and my abandoned boots become Izzie sleeping on the landing, or we think we see her out of the corner of an eye, only to realise it’s not her, just a handbag or a jumper that’s been left on the settee.

Not having a cat around has meant that at last we can encourage birds into the garden, and so now we have a bird table, and several hanging bird feeders of different types. A lot of our visits to garden centres and pound shops involve a look at the bird feeding sections, so we can see what other treats we can buy for the new visitors to the garden.

This was how we discovered mealworms. Tubs of dried worms that we were assured were a robin’s favourite treat. we put some on the bird table and found that starlings love them, and we read that robins mainly like to feed on the ground, so we put some on the ground as well.

Last night, Mike called me to have a look in the garden.I was treated to the sight of a hedgehog, who had obviously eaten the mealworms that had been left out for the birds.

So now, we’re not only feeding birds, we’re also feeding hedgehogs. That means we can’t use our favourite pesticide, which had been slug pellets, as we want to care for these beautiful little animals. I’m just hoping they don’t eat so many mealworms that they lose their appetite for the hundreds of slugs there will be now we’re not putting down slug pellets.

I think Mike’s next project will be to build a hedgehog house behind the shed…. and we’ll look forward to the baby hedgehogs we hope will eventually be born.

I can’t help wondering what will happen when we eventually adopt another cat. I know it will happen. Mike will not be able to live his life without a cat to spoil. The signs are there already. He will rush to open the window to chat to some passing moggy, and when we’re out walking, every passing cat will be called to, and stroked if they are brave enough to come up to him for a chat.

The only thing I can hope is that whatever cat we eventually get will be old, and past the chasing birds stage, so we can combine bird feeding with cat ownership. Image

The sad side of motorbikes.

I love motorbikes. I love the look of them, and the sound of them. I spent a lot of time riding pillion on my ex’s bike, and I even, for a year, owned my own bike and took lessons. The only thing that stopped me riding a bike was having mine stolen from outside my house. It upset me, and I didn’t bother replacing my bike or taking my test.

This afternoon I took a different route home from a local store, along a road I usually avoid because it has a nasty problem with parked cars. I came across a roadside shrine marking the spot where there had been an accident two weeks ago. I’d estimate that there are about 150 bouquets on the pavement.

Two weeks ago at this time of day, a young man was walking, talking, going about his normal life, enjoying his weekend. He had everything in front of him. He was a nice looking boy. He was aged twenty. By 8.30 in the evening everything was over, and his family were about to hear the news that nobody should ever have to hear, that their lovely boy, their Marcus, had died in a motorbike accident. Their hell was just beginning.

Meanwhile, a woman, aged 56, was beginning her own hell. She was the driver of the car involved in the accident, and she was charged with careless driving. I’m sure she isn’t a bad person. She made a mistake whilst driving her car. We all do it at some time, perhaps just make a split second decision to come out of a side road when perhaps it would have been safer to wait. I don’t know what happened in this case, I do know, though, that every time each of us gets behind the wheel, we are in danger of ending up in her position.

We’re all aware of the “Think Bike” campaign. Anyone who has ridden a bike will have their own tales to tell, of near misses when somebody didn’t “think bike”. We all will know of people who have been involved in accidents, which were often the fault of a car driver. I thank God that my own daughter is here to tell the tale after a car pulled out in front of her on a dual carriageway, causing her to swerve and lose control. I’m not sure the car driver  was even aware of the accident that he had caused….he didn’t stop.

Somewhere near here there is a family who is grieving, and there is a woman who is wishing that she could turn back the clock, and “think bike.” I feel for both the family of the boy who died, and for the woman involved in the accident.

Next time you get in your car, think of Marcus. If you’re getting on a bike, “think car.” Try to remember that when you were learning to ride, you were taught to ride defensively, to expect people in cars to do stupid things, and to leave room for them to do those things without involving you.

RIP Marcus.

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