When I saw my son marching off to war I was the proudest man on the street, well we were all proud. Our sons were off to fight the Huns. They had stood and were counted; counted as men who, at their country’s behest, would go and give the Germans a bloody nose.
I remember he looked smart in his uniform, marching smartly down the street, in his well-polished boots. This was the lad that I had nurtured from birth. The lad that I had loved from the moment he took his first breath. The lad that I, had taught to be … a man.
He wrote often about his life on the battlefields of Europe, sometimes every day. He gave good account of himself. Every letter signalled that he was safe, at least at the time of his writing.
My boy was a fine boy, any man would be proud to have him as a son. He stood tall, as his grandfather stood tall. He spoke his mind, he got that from me. He cared about the little things; he got that from his mother. She passed on some years ago. I watched him as he heard the news. His little lips quivering, tears in his eyes though not crying, no, not crying. He was the saddest I had ever seen him and there was nothing I could do to ease his pain. Oh I so wanted to ease his pain.
It was around the end of June his letters stopped coming. I thought he may have been part of the ‘Big Push’ and was probably too busy to write. A fighting man doesn’t want to be bothered with writing letters, does he? And then it came. Late one morning, in the second post it was. It was an official looking letter, a crisp white envelope with a typed address on its front and an embossed crown on the back. I had dreaded this since the day he marched off to war. I had wondered then if I would ever see him again. Of course I never let him know that, I couldn’t you see. I carefully placed the letter on the shelf above the fire in the best room. I would open it when I had finished tidying the house.
When he was small I remember his little hands, he was always so delicate … no … genteel is a better description, he got that from his mother as well.
The letter seemed to watch me as I went about my business. I cleaned out the ashes from the hearth; they were cool enough by then. After the dust settled I dusted the mantle shelf, lifting the letter then placing it back carefully so as not to disturb it.
Why? Oh why? Oh why had this happened? He was a fine lad, an English lad through and through. He was my child, my very own son whom I had loved and cherished and raised as best I could. As best I … knew … how. I picked up the letter. I shuddered at the thought of what it contains. I put it down again. Was this to be the darkest day of my life? Oh God! I hoped he didn’t suffer.
When he was ten he fell from a tree and broke his arm. He was lucky; it was a clean break, bent at a funny angle, but clean. I could see the pain in his face, but not one tear did he let fall upon his cheek. He simply refused to cry. Please God! Tell me it was quick.
I reached once more to the shelf and again I stopped. No, no, I must read it. It would be a dishonour to him if I did not read it now. I slowly opened the envelope and took out the plain white folded page it contained. The embossed crown on the back of the envelope was duplicated on the top of the page.
Dear Sir . . . . . . . . . . . . . it began.
Oh no! I cannot go on …
This is to inform you that His Majesty is extremely proud of your son Michael . . . .
This is it. He is dead. I know he is dead. This is my darkest hour. No longer will I have the companionship of my beloved boy and I shall die a lonely and bitter old man.
. . . . who, during the battle of the Somme acquitted himself with Honour and Valour. His Majesty is proud to award him this country’s highest honour, the Victoria Cross.
My God I couldn’t stand it! VCs are posthumously awarded I’m sure. My eyes glazed over and the words seemed to run, one into another.
You are requested to attend the award ceremony at Buckingham Palace on September 18 where your son will receive his medal from the King.
His medal? From the King? My son? What evil is this? Is he dead or not? This is a joke. It has to be. What kinds of people play jokes like this? Am I not suffering enough?
“Father, are you home?”