Heroes and visions

John Ward
John Ward
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WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward

I think I may have mentioned in passing some time ago that certain things trigger the memory as in perhaps a word, an act or even thoughts that relate to something as the following did in this instance.

While driving recently I was listening to the car radio – its a hands and feet-free model before you wonder if I had my mind on my driving – and something that was on the news made me wonder to myself just what was it all about.

To be honest there is so much waffle on there these days that I feel sure its purpose is just to pad it out a bit.

During one news bulletin was some fluff or other about some sporting event or whathaveyou and the likely outcome plus also a sort of praise about of one of those taking part and it crossed my mind that he only kicks a ball, not something useful like save millions of lives or find a cure for numerous or even one aliment in the world today.

It took me back – be honest, I can’t comment on the future as its not happened yet so you will have to be content with stuff I know about, sorry and all that, but that’s the way it goes on here – yes, it took me back to an afternoon in my parents’ home and there in the lounge was dad and his friend Bob, whom he had known for years.

They were watching a football match on the then big box with moving pictures called the television as it was some mega league match thing and so they sat there with cups of tea* provided by my mum, of the people for the people, who came in about every 10 to 15 minutes to see if ‘anybody wanted a cuppa while I’m up’ – up where was never mentioned – during this clash of the titans in a manner of speaking and was so intensive that a visit to the toilet – ours – had to be taken during the half time whistle.

*Nowadays you know if there is a ‘major’ sporting bash on as supermarkets suddenly have a ‘mega deal’ going on with crates of beer and suchlike that clog the doorway up of their premises.

It was during the third cup of tea that dad went all thought provoking and spoke.

He spoke to Bob (I was doing whatever it was but escapes me now but not watching the match) and he pointed out that one player who had just scored a goal and was being called a ‘hero’ by the over excited commentator and he could not understand why kicking a mere leather ball made him a hero.

So both he and friend Bob seemed to drift off from watching the match and they did a sort of analysing of their own so to speak.

Dad pointed out that they both served in the Far East during the Second World War and I will point out to those of an uncertain age, by ‘serving’ does not mean they were wine waiters on a cruise ship but they fought for the then King and Country.

They both served in Burma in those far off days and not through choice but regardless they were fighting for a just cause, and not like some of the less than dubious efforts undertaken in recent years, and as dad was pointing out and recalling the hellish conditions they were caught up in that ranged from the immense heat to not actually seeing their supposed enemy as he was more often than not in a well concealed place and was only seen when it was all too late.

Both of them were wounded and came home due to their injuries plus also they both caught malaria, a nasty disease that actually lasted longer than the end of the actual war – or rather theirs.

Dad suffered with it for years afterwards.

In those days I had no idea as to why the doctor was coming to see him so often and together with the nightmares he had, war is not the cinematic joy we seem to take for granted on the big or small screen that seems with some plausible outcome as the final credits roll at the end.

Our doctor told mum on one occasion that although he was considered ‘cured’, the long term effects were different in a lot of cases and so anything he might be ill with might trigger the initial malaria as in those days there was just basic medical treatment and not the super ‘plug n play’ types of today where a simple blood test can near enough tell your doctor what size shoe you wear, casual or lace up, stiletto heel or gumboot.

As he sat there that afternoon he asked Bob where they went wrong as instead of getting into ill-fitting and itchy uniforms, then travelling thousands of miles around the world on a ship with the danger of being sunk by submarine, aircraft or whatever was about plus most of the regiment were sea sick as they had never been on a ship before.

Then land on foreign soil and go through the process of killing others who were rather keen to get to you first, suffer some of the worst conditions known to mankind, so perhaps it might have been better to have chucked it all in and kicked a football and then after so many minutes, be declared a ‘hero’ for scoring a goal.

Bob looked rather thoughtful and agreed but said he didn’t mind watching a bit of ‘footy’ but actually playing it had never crossed his mind.

Dad then pointed out that in ‘their day’ it was not about selling T-shirts or player’s shirts with their names and number on like today that makes you wonder if there is any importance to the game itself or the score.

As they discussed the actual process and the similar parallels, it went along these lines.

If the eventual team won the cup or the championship league or whatever, they got a drive through their town or city on an open top bus and then assorted sponsorship deals for having their faces/names on everything from shaving soap to fly swatters, T-shirts to sink plungers plus their ‘life story’ in assorted newspapers and they might only be teenagers or just learning to shave even.

When they came home from fighting thousands of miles away, in their case partly on a stretcher plus waiting for available transport, then a place in a hospital if lucky, then out as quick as possible as there were many others in the queue and the eventual demobilisation or the ‘demob’ as it was called.

Then kitted out with a suit and a government supplied railway ticket to get home, followed by a campaign medal a while later.

Dad looked philosophical as he said he could not remember anyone calling him a ‘hero’ or anything like it despite all the genuine hardship he and a lot more endured, with a lot not ever returning, and Bob added that the old saying they were referred to as the ‘Forgotten Army’ was about right and the thought of selling overpriced T-shirts not even a consideration.