In My Father’s Words



In My Father’s Words


03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018


A Walk In The Autumn

The coffin was lowered and the earth filled in on top of it.  The mourners moved slowly away from the graveside to walk in small groups towards the cars.  The older woman took the younger one by the arm.

“Come on, Ginnie, let’s go for a walk.  Funerals depress me.”

“Gran!”  The younger woman was shocked.  “George is only in his grave.  What would he think?”

“He would bloody well approve.  George hated funerals too.”

They liked arms.  “All right, Gran, where to?”

“Let’s go to Coppit’s Woods. It’s a beautiful day, and there aren’t many of those to come.”

They left the others, busy in their earnest chit-chat. far behind, and in a few minutes were crunching across the brown and red leaves dying on the autumnal forest floor.  The late sun dappled a weak path through the thinning trees to turn the carpet golden in the open spaces.  Leaves drifted down to join their dead brethren on the golden carpet, and the reassuring smell of wood smoke drifted in a pale blue thread from some suburban garden.

“I like it here, Ginnie.  I first came here over fifty years ago.  It was a day just like today.”

“Did you come with Granddad?”

“No, I didn’t know George then.”  The older woman was silent, for several seconds, as if she had drifted off into another world.  When she started to speak again it was in an abstract way, as if she was talking to herself.  “No, not with George.  I was with a young man called Tony Archer.  It was late on in the war, after D-Day.  It was his last leave.  We didn’t know it at the time, but he was to go to Arnhem about a few days later.  I never saw him after that day.”

Ginnie’s eyes glistened.  “Did you love him?

“Oh, yes.  I loved him.  I still do.”

“Did Granddad know?”

“He did later.”

Ginnie stopped in astonishment.  “Did Tony leave you?”

“No, dear, he died at Arnhem.  He died in George’s arms.  Let’s sit down, there, at that little bridge over the stream.”  She looked around.  “Look here Ginnie, in the stone.  You see, just here, faded, but you can read it.  Our initials, AA, and MF.  He always called himself Anthony, but I liked Tony better.”  She fingered the letters.  “That’s me.  Molly Friel.”

“What happened to Tony, Gran?”

“He served with George, and they were in the town with John Frost against the SS, and the tanks.  They didn’t have a chance.  No ammunition, no food, no reinforcements, nothing.  It was so unfair.  George told me about it.  He carried Tony from the house when it was all over.  He was badly wounded, Tony, not George.  The Germans took him for treatment.  George and the others sat in the street.”

Once again she seemed to be hearing George’s words drifting like ghosts over the years.

“A German officer came over to me.  He was in a grey uniform, Wehrmacht, not SS.”

He saluted military style. “Captain?  Cigarette?”

“I looked up.  I couldn’t speak.  I was sick and tired to my bones.  I nodded.  He lit the cigarette in his own mouth and gave it to me.”

“I’m sorry, captain, but the boy died.”

“He wasn’t a boy.  He was a British officer, Second Lieutenant Archer.”

“I’m sorry, captain, Lieutenant Archer died.  Did you know him well?”

“He was my brother.”

“Your brother?”

“For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.  Henry V.”

The German stared at him, without understanding.  “He asked me to give you this, and give it to his girl.  There’s a photograph, and this.  I do not know the English word.”

George took the objects.  “It’s an acorn.  I will give it to her, one day”

Molly Friel came back to the present.  “I gave him the acorn here, in this wood.  I said when he came home we would plant it, and watch our love grow.  There it is, on the other side of the bridge.  Perhaps it was not my acorn which caused that tree, but I like to think so.”

“Gran, that’s a wonderful story.  Did Granddad know all this?”

“Yes, good man that he was, he knew, and despite it, loved me all his life.  But, please, stop calling George your Grandfather.  Why do you think your mother is called Antonia?”

Written by my Father B.M



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