A week ago I was at Eden Camp just outside Malton in North Yorkshire. It's a modern history theme museum constructed in the 30+ huts of an original Prisoner of War camp built in 1942. It's not the place where politicians or brigadiers are seen to pontificate; it's dedicated to ordinary people who were caught up in the conflicts of the 20th century.
I was attending a reunion of the Veterans of Palestine - members of the British Military forces and British members of the Palestine Police who served in the region up to 1948 when the British Mandate terminated. As can be understood, there weren't a great number attending.
I was there because my late father-in-law had served as a Palestine Policeman 1936-43 when he had been shipped back to England due to injury, and from there sucked in to the war in Europe. When bereaved many years later, my husband had encouraged him to write down his experiences, and recently we came across a thick ringbinder. Some of those experiences we had heard, the often humorous anecdotes, but much of it was new to us - and now it is too late to ask for futher details.
Upon arriving at Eden Camp we went into the Canteen for refreshments. After we'd sat at one of the long tables an old man tottered by us, his cup of tea slopping on a tray held in unsteady hands. I watched to make sure he managed to set the tray on his table without mishap. He did so, and took his seat with some relief. Perhaps it had been a long journey; perhaps it had been just a long walk from the counter.
He was a thin man, not tall, his tie slightly askew above an open collar button, his hair standing out at odd angles. As he made himself comfortable he pulled something bulky from a pocket and placed it on the table beside his tray. It was the maroon beret of the Parachute Regiment.
Too often we look at someone, even someone close to us, and see them as they are now, not the wealth of experiences they have both enjoyed and endured. Do you have someone close within your circle, someone who was conscripted into the National Service, perhaps, was in Malaya, or Korea, or one of the many other conflicts that have beset the world since the end of World War II. What about their stories? Time to ask, time to commit to paper, may be shorter than you think.
Adendum: Just to emphasise the theme of this post, while looking through the photographs taken on the day I came across this, one of many boxes adorning the walls in the Medal Room of Eden Camp.
At the time of taking the photograph I didn't recognise the name in context, but Vivian Stuart - 2nd Lt Women's Auxiliary Service (Burma), the "WASBs" - was a founder member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, and someone I recall from writers' conferences in Scarborough when I was making my first forays into writing fiction for magazines. I recall her as a tall, rather austere-looking lady often seen wearing tartan trews. If I'd had the nerve to approach her, think what other memories I might now be carrying.