We Will Remember Them!

Tuesday 15 November 2010: 4 years 2 months on …

 

As a twenty odd-year old, my grandfather, Walter Charles Lunnon, experienced the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). He served in the telegraph signallers in Kimberley when it was besieged and must have been very involved in the communication goings-on of the time. In his diary, he noted that he saw many of the leading people of the day: Cecil John Rhodes, Lord Milner and Rudyard Kipling

The Siege of Kimberley (from 14 October 1899 to 15 February 1900) took place when Boer forces from the Orange Free State and the Transvaal besieged the diamond mining town. The Boers moved quickly to try to capture the British enclave when war broke out between the British and the two Boer republics in October 1899. The town was ill-prepared, but the defenders organised an energetic and effective improvised defence that was able to prevent it from being taken for 124 days.

Walter Charles also lived through the First World War – the Great War – of 1914 to 1918. Indeed, my father, Herbert Louis Lunnon, was born during that War. He was born in 1916, the year Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener died near the Orkney Islands when the warship taking him to negotiations in Russia was sunk by a German mine, and was named after him.

Kitchener was a British Field Marshall and proconsul who won fame for his imperial campaigns (also as Chief of Staff during the Anglo-Boer War) and later played a central role in the early part of the First World War as Secretary of State for War, a British Cabinet minister.

His commanding image, appearing on recruiting posters demanding “Your country needs you!” remains recognized and parodied in popular culture to this day.

My grandfather and father lived through the Second World War (1939 – 1945). My Father had an eye problem. He could not enlist and I’m not sure what his further involvement was during that War. Grandpa was called out of retirement into service of The Strand post office whilst the incumbent youngsters went off to fight in Europe.

My Uncle Willie Walls was captured in Tobruk and held as a prisoner of war in Italy for three years.

It was only in my generation that this country, once again, experienced war. This time, it was on our borders and in South West Africa (now Namibia), Angola and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the sixties, seventies and eighties.

Most of us were called up to do our national service, initially nine months of duty, but increased at regular intervals until some of us, like me, did two years of service. I never got to do active service “somewhere on the border” as that popular radio hostess of the day, Pat Kerr, used to say when reading out messages on Springbok Radio’s “Forces Favourites” on Saturday afternoons.

Many of my contemporaries (including my brother-in-law Anton Scholtz) did, however, serve and fight and experience action, especially in Angola.

Since the early nineties, we have been at peace! Our children have not experienced War in this country. Many of their compatriots around the world have indeed been and are at war, and it was with concern that I heard that my American “brother” Kevin Whitley’s son was going off to Afghanistan soon. We wish him a safe return!

In the meantime, last Thursday 11 November, was what the Americans call Veterans’Day, some call it Armistice Day and we call it Remembrance Day. We gathered at the Grey High School’s War Memorial at 11am to commemorate the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

I wondered how many of our “peace time” youngsters standing in the cloisters understood and appreciated the supreme sacrifice that so many have given (including 59 Old Grey’s in WW1 and 120 in WW2) to ensure that, today, we live in peace.

 I wondered how long this peace would last.

As the orchestra played, the poppies danced magically in the breeze, the bells tolled, the solitary plane roared overhead and the wreaths were laid, I wondered whether I would be able to keep my annual date with Harriet Berkowitz at the service next year. Harriet is the mother of Darryl (Headboy of Grey – 1986), and for the last few years, my Jewish friend has come to collect her Gentile counterpart in order that we should not forget the battles of our past.  

I thought of our future battles.

My battle with an enemy that takes more and more of me every day as this CBD continues to slow me down and take a hold on me. It is taking my body, my mind, my ability to work, my family, my self.

I thought of the giant battles that lie ahead – it has been mere skirmishes up until now!

The battles to keep moving, to keep positive, to keep the family together, to be more tolerant, to be more understanding, to be more patient … I think I’m beginning to lose.

The battle that Deirdre Kohler, who spoke on our radio programme last Wednesday, has been fighting against her brain tumour for the last four years. She has documented that battle in her blog and in her book BRUTAL HONESTY, the launch of which I attended at Moffett-on-Main on Saturday morning and which I have just finished reading. What strength! What an example to follow! One CAN win battles against all the odds.

The battle that we have against a health system that fails so many of us.

The battle that we appear to be losing against those other cancers in our society – rampant crime and corruption and unemployment and lawlessness. (It’s no small wonder that so many of our countrymen and women have deserted the battle field and moved on to other pastures. But maybe it’s time to bring out that Kitchener poster again – Your country needs YOU!)

The battle to turn a decaying education system around and to get it functional so that we do not lose the fight against illiteracy and ignorance in this country.

I thought of who will replace the teachers that have been retiring over the last few years. Two years ago, Pat Clarke retired after 35 years of service. I wrote a letter from Cumbria, England to say goodbye to him at his farewell party at Dexter’s Den.

I thought of Jill Bromiley who retired last year after 40 years of service. I spoke at her farewell luncheon in the Way Hall and compared life’s journey to a train ride.

I thought of Charles Pautz, who was now retiring after 43 years of service. On Wednesday evening, we said goodbye to him at Old Grey Club in a function that seemed to last 43 hours! On Friday evening, we attended a formal dinner in the Way Hall to say more farewells to a man who has become a legend at the school.

I first got to know Charles in my second year at Grey when we toured England and Holland together as part of the supporters group for the 1985 Grey Cricket Tour. That was 25 years ago and by then he had already spent almost twenty years at the school!

He has a treasure chest full of memories that need to be documented. And he remembers oh so well!

Ah, yes! As we sang Oh Valiant Hearts and listened to the lone trumpeter play the Last Post and the Reveille (from “réveille”, the French word for “wake up”), the memories flooded through my degenerating brain. If only it could wake up again!

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

(PS And remember that on Saturday evening we attended Mike Rishworth’s 50th birthday party. Congratulations, Mike!  … that brought to an end another “quiet and restful” week!)