In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
He was tired now, more weary than he had imagined he would be. He should have known better, especially at his age. Well, that was what Sarah had told him, and she was always right. George Martin reflected without rancour that children, especially daughters, assumed the role of parents as those parents got older. Still, he knew that he had wanted to be here, for the Queen, to pay his respects, even if it killed him. And it probably will, you silly old fool, Sarah had scolded as he set off, fussing over his coat and scarf, and straightening his cap.
Women could be a real pain in the arse he said to himself as he left Victoria Station, blinking in the strong sunlight. He stopped and bought a newspaper. “How much?” he queried the boy. Blimey everything had gone up. He looked at the front page. “Queen’s Jubilee”. The Queen stared at him unsmilingly from the front page. Perhaps she hasn’t got a lot to smile about George thought to himself. He shuffled across the street in the direction of the Palace.
He glanced down at the medals clinking on the breast of his coat. They had been polished the previous night by Sarah. Ah, Sarah! Where would be without her, good daughter that she was. Well at least he knew the answer to that one. He’d be in that dammed old hospital in Chelsea, dressed up in that silly blue and red uniform, with the dammed stupid cap. No, Sarah had enough of her own to look after, without her old Dad being such a miserable bastard.
Bloody trains! They were slower than they had been thirty years ago, and dirtier than he remembered. And the passengers, motley bunch they were, not half of them English. He’d never heard so many different languages in his bleedin’ life. There was so much traffic in the street and all moving so fast. A man had to take his life in his hands to cross the road. And London was so dirty, rubbish everywhere. No one seemed to care any more. Where were the standards? They should have done some time in the Army. That would have given the spineless sods some backbone.
He went over the street, almost getting under the hooves of a brewer’s dray. Dammed horses, too big. They frightened the life out of him, just as they had done all those years ago when he had run away to join the Army and found himself in Belgium. The British, the Germans and the French, fighting and killing each other, and killing the horses, too. The smell was everywhere, blood and guts and sweat. Oh yes, and fear, mostly that. George had never seen a horse until he went to war, well not really, not close up, and not on its own. Bloody big.
He put the newspaper in his coat pocket. Time to read that going back on the train. He looked again at his medals, reflecting the sun, and he touched them.
There was a large crowd of people, even now, three hours before the carriage was due to leave the palace. He ambled along in their wake. No one seemed to be in a hurry, and that suited George. God, he did feel tired. On the Mall he found what seemed to be a good spot and sat down on the edge of the pavement. All around him the people came, young and old, the children chattering excitedly, their parents laughing and joking.
He pulled a packet of sandwiches from his overcoat pocket, and a bottle of beer from the other side. He ate and drank slowly, watching with interest as the guardsmen arrived, lining the route, directed with pompous efficiency by their NCO’s. He watched with special interest, as an ex RSM himself, as the Guards’ sergeant major marched along, moving a man here an inch, and another one there two inches. George approved. Bags of swank, that’s what you needed as a sergeant major.
As he munched the bread and cheese, he drifted in the warm sunshine to his first battle, in Belgium, with the immense slaughter which went with it. Running away to join the Colours had seemed an adventure until then. Still he had survived and had stayed on, fighting the country’s little wars until the next big one. He had been retired by then, but they needed good men, they said, men with experience, they said. So he went back. She hadn’t liked it, his Alice, but she knew her man well enough not to argue. Waste of time she had said. Anyway, it would be all over by Christmas, they said.
George chatted with the other people, enjoying a little surge of pride as the young ones looked admiringly at his medals. He explained what they had all been for. Around him the crowd filled and pushed in on the spectators in front. The police had arrived, standing between the Guardsmen and the crowd. They exchanged good-natured banter with the watchers. Then it was time; the rumble of noise welled up from his left, from the direction of Buckingham Palace. He was pleased that he had arrived early enough to get a good place. The noise increased and he could hear people calling out individual messages. ‘God bless you, ma’am’, ‘well done’, and there were little choruses of ‘God Save the Queen’.
And there she was, an old lady, waving with one gloved hand, perhaps smiling a little as if the reception had surprised her. ‘God bless you ma’am’ he called out.
It was some time before they realised that he was dead, only when the crowd began to disperse did George’s 87 year old body slide sideways and slump on the roadway in the Mall. The policeman noticed that the old man was smiling. George Martin, veteran of Waterloo and the Crimea, had done his duty, and paid his respects to his sovereign, Victoria, on her Golden Jubilee.
Written by my Father B.M