Neighbours I Have Known Part 2
I have just started to read Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley, what promises to be a great book about the men who planted the flag on Okinawa in 1945. It has stirred a distant memory...
In my teens I developed the knack of walking my dog and reading a book at the same time. This caused many to think of me as a nutter (not far from the truth I guess) and was the starting point of many a conversation. One man that I chatted to a lot was an old family friend. He once saw me reading a book about the Battle of Monte Casino in Italy, 1944. We got talking and he told me that he had been in Italy during the war, driving trucks. The only Germans he had seen were either dead or prisoners, and the only time he got shot at was when he had been ordered to take some boats up to the front line for a river crossing. Some random German shells landed close by and he had unloaded with record speed and headed back to the rear.
Over the next few years we chatted, or merely waved and said our hellos, commenting on the weather as the British do. Sometimes I would catch him sitting in his garden in the sun. On these occasions he would share biscuits with me and my dog and he would always make sure I had a few spare biscuits to take on my way.
It was only after he had died that I heard the truth of his time in World War 2. His wife had made a comment that he was very lucky to live to the age that he did, considering how he had been when he came home after the war. His Italy story had been just that, a story. It allowed him to hide the truth, to avoid reliving what he had really been doing. He had been in Burma in 1942 when the Japanese invaded. Like many of his comrades, he had not been able to escape from the Japanese advance and had spent the next 3 years as a prisoner of war. He had seen most of his friends die slow deaths from hunger and exhaustion. The biscuits and his pretend war in Italy suddenly made painful sense.
I really miss this guy.