WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward
In recent times the word patriotic has been bandied about in assorted forms, like which flag should be flown and when, or being used on assorted gift wrapping paper (when I read that one, I mentally gave up hope), but spare a thought for another, real, entry into this seemingly new trend to be seen doing the “right thing”.
It was just after the original desert conflict in the early 1990s called Operation Desert Storm had started, and it seemed to be the then telly screen filler, as we were treated to seeing assorted weaponry guided to various targets and seeing the screen go blank as we were informed by the narrator’s voice that it had been a “direct hit” on an enemy target, usually unspecified, and with no idea as to what it might have been, that had met its untimely end.
Having set the scene, the following took place in, of all places, my parents’ kitchen.
Enter Reginald, in the grand scheme of things to come. He was my dad’s friend and the one major thing they had in common was they both fought in World War Two but in different conflicts, dad in the Far East and Reginald in the European one, but both with the same aim for a free world or what passes for one.
I had been sitting there in the living room chatting with Mum as Reginald – not Reg or Reggie but Reginald, as this was his name and how he liked to be addressed, no short cuts in his book – arrived on the front doorstep, in grey trousers and dark blazer with his row of campaign medals attached, and asked to see Dad.
On Mum inviting him in and we saying hello, I noticed he had a large carrier bag with him. Mum fetched Dad from the shed or, as he called it, his “sanctuary”, to greet Reginald and asked him to sit himself down, as Mum decided it was time for the kettle to be put on. After assorted bits of greeting and suchlike was over, Reginald explained why he had arrived: he wanted “a bit of Desert Storm” no less, but Mum thought he said Dessert Storm and that it was something new in the chilled food cabinet at the Co-op. Only my mum…sigh.
Once this misunderstanding was cleared up, Reginald explained he was on his way to the medical centre to see his doctor for a medical to see if he was fit to fight once again, and mum asked whatever for, as the (then) MFI furniture sale was still on, and in those days you paid up front for your settee, not like today where you wait three to four years before doing this minor procedure. Reginald explained that he still “able” and was volunteering to help out as best he could, hence booking the doctor’s appointment, which took longer to get than the start of the conflict, to see if he was fit enough as he was ready to go.
He said he had put his things in order, should he get the green light, as he felt he still had a lot to offer, and was up to date with paying his milkman, had paid for his football coupons up front with Nigel his collection agent and made arrangements for his cat, Spartacus*, to be fed while he was away. *The cat’s name was originally Sid, but while at the seaside, Reginald came across a gift shop who did free engraving if you brought a pet collar identity disc, and to get his money’s worth, changed the name to Spartacus as there were more letters in it than plain Sid.
He also explained the contents of his carrier bag as, if he was given the green light, and had to go quick, he was prepared – unlike the last time in the 1940s. It was his collection of Doris Day long playing records (to those of a younger age, they were black, round, 12- inch, long-playing records that revolved on a turntable at about 33 revolutions a minute and produced sound via a pickup with a stylus on its tip, in basic terms, although as I write, this form of entertainment is slowly making a comeback.
His idea was based loosely on the world-famous, to us anyway, BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, where a guest chooses eight records (the discs) to take with them to a desert island, but Reginald was ahead of the game as he had got his already packed and ready to go, although no hint as to what he would be playing them on was mentioned, although perhaps if they overran an enemy position, they might find a working record player – who knows?
Mum asked if he had packed his pyjamas but he replied that he felt sure they would supply them with the uniform, plus, he had no idea as to what thickness to take anyway as he didn’t want to pack a thick pair in case it turned out to be hot at night time there.
He thanked Mum for the tea and said goodbye to us collectively and left to keep his appointment at the medical centre. Dad mumbled something about he hoped this idea was not compulsory as he had brought his season ticket to see his team play footy on Saturdays as he assumed this would not be a Monday to Friday type of conflict, as the one he was in, and Mum said that things might have moved on a bit what with rules and regulations plus those Health and Safety people being involved.
A few days later Reginald arrived back to let Mum and Dad know the outcome. The doctor had told him that while his gesture was with the best possible of intentions, he felt that unless he had instructions from the relevant Government department, he could not really follow through with an examination based on his request.
Reginald went back and retrieved Spartacus from his neighbour, but he kept up to date with the conflict on the television to get an idea of when he would he be needed and to book an appointment again, allowing for trying to get through to book up, as the phone was always engaged, and so he had to make allowances there.
From my point of view, as I started off at the beginning, being patriotic has quite a few meanings but the fact there was somebody not in the full flush of youth, who felt he should be there alongside his comrades – though separated by a few decades, it should be noted – wishing to take part in an event that would hopefully bring about peace, or at least something resembling it.
However as history constantly shows, there are no winners in such conflicts and as Remembrance Day draws close, I will be thinking of the many who have fallen, and with a soft spot for Reginald, who, despite his years, was of the mindset that you gave what you could.