Remembrance Day, 2014. I sat restfully in my armchair by the window. The two minutes silence had begun.
My son, Edward, stood solemnly in the doorway from the kitchen. His wife, Maria, was perched on a chair at the dining table, slowly sipping her tea. My grandchildren, Molly, Rosie and Howard, however were sat on the floor: Rosie, braiding her sister’s hair, Molly, with her nose in a book, and little Howard, snuggling his favourite teddy.
On the telly, Big Ben’s bells rang. I sighed loudly; the silence was over. Maria stood up from the table, picked up the remote control and pressed the ‘off’ button. “Just what I was thinking.” I chuckled. Finishing the braid in Molly’s hair, Rosie looked over at me. “Granddad?” she said questioningly “What was it like to be in the war?”
“Rosie, I don’t think he wants to talk about it.” Maria told her daughter, taking her teacup and saucer out to the kitchen. “But Mum, I’m learning about the Second World War in History and…”
“Rosemary Evangeline Stark, don’t answer back.” snapped Maria. Edward put his hand on her shoulder “Dad wouldn’t mind it, would you?”
“Not at all.” I smiled. My son smiled back. The memory of his mother glistened in his eyes. Maria didn’t answer, but the three children had shuffled forward so that they were at my feet. “Well,” I began “I remember one battle particularly well. It was a cold, early morning in 1944…” Rosie leaned forward with anticipation. Molly had finally decided to put down her book and listen. And Howard, still clinging onto his teddy, looked up at me with an excited grin spread across his face.
November 17th, 1944. We were off the coast of France. The boat that was heaving the team and I across the icy cold English Channel sailed smoothly. My eyes darted around the scene. To my right, my childhood friend, Corporal George Rhodes, spoke a quiet prayer to the lord above. To my left, Private Norman Killian was heaving his insides up due to sea sickness. But when I looked straight on, the sight of Colonel Hillridge barking orders added to my discomfort.
Maybe faking my age and joining the army wasn’t such a brilliant idea after all. I missed my family. I missed my home. But most of all, I missed Lizzie, the love of my life. We’d only been engaged a week, when the army had accepted my enrolment. All of this sorrow started to make me feel inferior. Worthless. Yet, this made me realise the real reason I joined. To avenge my country and to make sure all of my loved ones live in peace.
The beach was only a few feet away now. That small sense of pride I had started to feel, filled my body. So, I stood up straight, shoulders back and inhaled deeply. The ramp at the front of the boat lowered, and as it did we were met with a blizzard of bullets, pelting at us. Ducking down to avoid being shot, I followed those who hadn’t been killed off (just yet), crawling off the ramp and into the blisteringly cold sea. The water seemed to stab at my pale skin, like a thousand tiny knives. The pain was antagonising but, to avoid cowardice, I trudged through the water with my trusty firearm at hand.
Finally making it onto the wet beach, I looked round for any soldier I recognised. Our opponents were still firing a rain fall of bullets. Noticing that Colonel Hillridge was still alive, I hurried over to him for orders. “Find survivors and fire back!” He yelled. “But sir…” I protested, but unable to finish. “That’s an order, Stark!” Obeying orders, I scampered across the beach, taking note of how many members of my comrade I could see were alive. Soon enough, our opponents started releasing shrapnel missiles.
Explosions went off all around. Dead bodies and debris littered the beach. On my rounds, I could only spot a limited number of my comrade, including Colonel Hillridge. My stomach started to tie itself in knock at the thought of George being dead. I didn’t want to lose my childhood. Not here. Not now. While firing a few rounds at those who were firing at me, I caught sight of George wandering aimlessly along the beach. Running over to him, I noticed one enemy soldier fire in George’s direction. Picking up my pace, I pushed my friend out of the way of the shrapnel hurtling toward him.
George had fallen back into the sea. BOOM! Sand flew, clouding my vision. My chest started to feel as if I’d been impaled. Pulling back my shirt, I saw the vest I wore underneath, completely blood stained. I’d been hit. As explosions and cries for help started to muffle, I couldn’t help but feel that my demise was inevitable. I’d played my part. I was an avenger. I was a hero.
“…once the battle was over, I was rushed to hospital along with many other injured individuals. The doctors were able to retrieve the shrapnel before it reached my heart. And once I’d recovered, I return home a hero.” I sighed concluding my story. The three children sat there, fascinated. Even Edward and Maria looked to have been engrossed.
“That was amazing!” Gasped Rosie. “Absolutely brilliant!” Molly grinned. Edward chuckled, looking at his watch. “Kids, we’ll need to be leaving soon.” He warned them. The girls huffed and grabbed their things. But Howard remained at my feet. I looked down at him “You’d better go get your coat on too, little one.”
“But I want to hear another story.” The little boy frowned, his bottom lip started to wobble. Maria walked over and picked him up “Howard, Granddad needs some rest.” I smiled kindly at my grandson. Digging into my shirt pocket, I pulled out a small plastic container with a small ridged piece of metal in it.
I handed it to Howard, who rattled it. “It’s the piece of shrapnel the doctors took out of my chest,” I say “I want you to take good care of it for me. Will you do that Howard?” Howard nodded as his mother carried him outside, his teddy in her other hand. I love my grandchildren dearly. And I just hope that they don’t have to experience what I had. War is no place for children and I should know as I was still a child myself when I joined the war.