Of course Remembrance Day makes us reflect on all the precious lives lost in every conflict. My children were little when the Belgrano was sunk and I just remember wondering what kind of world I was bringing them into.
My own experiences of war are few. I do not know anyone who has fought or even been in the army but my Mum and Grandma would often talk for hours about the war. The soldiers they knew. The friends who had been touched by a sadness like no other when they lost a loved one.
But I loved the stories about the evacuees who came to stay on my Grandma's farm in mid Devon best of all. My maternal Grandma was called Doris and she married Mark. The best of the bunch according to her!And together they had 3 children. Stanley,Kenneth and my mum Margaret.
Their farm was about 8 miles from the nearest town and Grandmas stories of her life made a big impression on me when I was growing up. If I was moany or needy she used to say "you don't know how lucky you are" And embark on a tale of the hardships she used to have to endure with her family. No heating,no electricity, no running water,no television,no washing machine and certainly no car. My Mum talked of all these things too. The blacksmith used to pull their teeth out if they had toothache!And wonderful stories of Grandad scaring would be suitors away with his shotgun.If my Mum managed to sneak out and meet a boy maybe they would have a cuddle under a hedge. And she would hear her Dad come shuffling up the lane in his boots with no laces and know there was trouble ahead!
Anyway, Grandma had her hands full with 3 children. Several farm hands to feed. Her own farm work to do. Collecting dozens and dozens of eggs,hand washing them, and taking them by a horse and cart to market to sell was just a small part of it.But the request came in her area for people to house evacuees. Because farmers had more food than some they were asked to take several children.
My Mum vividly remembers the day 3 children arrived on top of the horse and cart looking scared out of their lives. They came from inner London where the war was taking a terrible toll. There was a girl called Betty and then Olive and Charlie. Olive was 10 and Charlie was 2.They had never been outside of the city, so to come to a rural farm with complete strangers and farming ways must have been absolutely terrifying.Apparently they were very dirty and of course one of the first jobs was to be put in the tin bath,hair cuts and sorting out some suitable clothes for muddy farmyards and fields.Betty never settled and soon went home.
But Charlie and Olive were different.When I was a little girl Charlie used to come and visit my Grandma who lived with us every summer. I got used to this as they always seemed so pleased to see each other. He later bought his wife and their children and Grandma would talk to them for hours catching up and sharing news.
And after they left I would always ask to hear Charlie's story. . . . .
So,here it is.Charlie came to Devon as I said with his sister Olive when he was 2. Just about Williams age now. Olive being 10 meant that she was like a real Mummy to him. She apparently guarded him like gold. He was terrified of everything. The farm animals,the tractors,the farm workers and the pure darkness of the countryside.
During the day Olive went to the local school so Grandma had to help Charlie to settle somehow. As soon as Olive went to school he would either climb back into bed and hide under the covers or shut himself in the cupboard where the Wellington boots were kept by the back door. Not a word would he say but he cried a LOT!
Grandma was at her wits end until one day an orphaned lamb was brought into the kitchen and put in the very lowest warming oven of the Aga. Charlie peeped out from the cupboard all day at the lamb so Grandma made him a bed out of an old drawer by the Aga. The friendship between the lamb and Charlie was the key. The lamb was more frightened and on his own than Charlie. So day by day the lamb grew and Charlie became a changed lad. He fed the lamb and soon the bed was made bigger by the Aga for the lamb and Charlie.
I loved this part of the story so much.Thank goodness for that lamb because before long Olive was called back to London because her mother had had another baby and was ill so could not cope on her own.
So, Charlie stayed.
The story goes that as long as the lamb was near Charlie was fine. Of course being so young Charlie soon adapted and became a sturdy,healthy little boy. He thrived on the plentiful eggs,cream and butter from the dairy. The meat from the animals and the fresh air.
My Grandma had a real soft spot for boys and to see this dear little city boy turn into a Country boy made her so happy.Amazingly Charlie stayed with my Grandma and Grandad on the farm until he was 11. Unheard of really, but things were very difficult at home and he was like family.My Mum said it was like having another brother.
But,Charlie had to give up driving the tractors,helping with the hay making,herding the cows and sheep. Training the sheepdogs who were all called Mac and go back to the city to find a job when he was 12. The money would help the rest of his family so much and the war was long over.
So there we have it the story of Charlie. But,not quite. At my Grandma's,and, my Mum's funeral guess who made the effort to come all the way from Essex to Devon to stand beside us as we said our final Goodbyes. Charlie. When I thanked him with tears in his eyes he said "They were my family ."
Love can transcend any boundaries war can erect.Love can make mismatched families complete and Love can make us feel at home anywhere in the world.So,yes remember with thanks the brave men and women but remember also those dear children who struggled and the generous folk who took them into their houses and made them homes for as long as they needed one.
Charlie will keep those memories all his life and will tell his children and grandchildren about the time a city boy lived in the country.