Boots & Bullsh*t

Remembrance Day - Remembering

Remembrance Day was very damp and cold that year. I stood with a few others by the steps of the Cenotaph waiting for the parade to arrive. We could hear the band approaching so knew it would be only a matter of minutes before they appeared. My eyes drifted down the long list of names on the memorial…….Ashworth W.,……. Spinal L.,…Atkins T.…T for Tommy…Tommy Atkins! My memory was jolted by the name.

It must have been nearly twenty years since I had reason to visit old Mrs. Atkins though I cannot recall exactly now what the reason was. She was a lovely old lady who lived just up the road from me. I remember she always carried an umbrella wherever she went regardless of the weather. She was quite small and slight and spoke with a very broad Lancashire accent. When I called on her she invited me in and made a pot of tea. Over the fireplace was the photograph of a man in uniform. She noted my gaze and said……

“Than’ war Tommy in t’ Lancashire Fusiliers. Oil lads reawnd ‘ere joined Lancashire Fusiliers……Tommy allus said thi’ war creeam o’ Lancashire”. She paused for a moment then added, “Wi married in 1914…..same year as t’ war started”.

“Tommy” I said. “Tommy Atkins?” “Aye, that’s reight” she said. “Tommy Atkins, funny in’t it ‘e should be ca’ed that”. “The ordinary British Soldier”, I said.

“Aye, th’ ordinary British sowjer” she replied….. “bur ‘e wurn’t ordinary, ‘e war speshull. Non’ on ‘em war ordinary thi war oal speshull t’ somebody. Ee ‘e war a bonny lad war Tommy. ‘E war a bit owder than mey tha knows, bur aw allus liked ‘im even when aw war still at schoo’. Oil lasses fancied Tommy. I’ war jus’ same then as i’ es neaw, nowt’s changed, it niver does. It meks mi smile when aw ‘ear foak tooaking abeawt young ‘uns an’ heaw they be’ave t’day, wi war jus’ same”.

Her old eyes twinkled. She went on sipping her tea slowly and smiled.

“Wi knew wha’ it war oal abeawt. It’s not summat noo, though young ‘uns may think it is. Ee, aw war proper med up an’ ‘e axed mi eawt. We geet reight thick in noa time. Then wi could’na wait t’ geet wed. And wi ‘ad nowt tha knows, nowt bar each other. It wurn’t fair war it? Wi war ‘ardly axing fer t’ warld”.

“No, it wasn’t fair” I agreed. “My grandfather was in the Lancashire Fusiliers. I still have his medals. He told me a few stories about the war. He said that they won six VC’s before breakfast at Gallipoli”. She fixed her eyes on me and stared unwaveringly.

“Than doan’t neead t’ tell mey, aw know oal abeawt it” she said. “Thi paid f’ them medals. It war 25 April, 1915 thi’ londed at ‘W’ beech. Th’ Australians war on ‘Z’ beech an’ thi’ changed theirs to Anzac. Thi’ war two booat loads o’ t’ fust battalion”.

She shook her head. “Thi wurn’t mich creeam left after that mooanin’. Thi’ warn’t heawse ’n oal o’ this row wi’ t’ winder blinds uppen.

She clasped her hands together and studies her thumbs.

“Last thin’ ‘e said t’ mi war, ‘Dooan’t wurry lass, aw’ll steer clear o’ trouble. It’ll oal bi o’er sooan, then me an’ thee ‘ull be o’reight. Th’y browt ‘im hoam……. weel, thi browt ‘arf on ‘im hoam. ‘E niver spoke ageean. ‘E only lukked at mi, but aw think ‘e knew. Aw think soa. ‘E didna’ last long. I’ war a blessin’”.

She shrugged. “Wha’ diff’rence did it mek? Th’ said it war a war to end all wars”. She looked at me again and shook her head.

“Aw’ve bin sixty years wi’eawt ‘im……aw still think on ‘im ivery day. Sumtimes aw tooak to ‘im though aw know it seawnnds daft…….There’s noa more tears neaw, aw’ve shed ‘em oal. Buckets on ‘em…….Thi’ could niver bi onybody else, not fer mey. It wurn’t fair war it?.......Aw lost iverythink and who cares? I allus say, when i’ coomes doeawn to it, when it reelly coomes reight deawn to it……WHO CARES?

The band arrived and I came back to reality. Wreathes were laid and prayers said. The Last Post Sounded. The band marched off. I stood there continuing to look at the list of names whilst everyone else drifted away. Leaves swirled around my feet. It was cold. Quiet. Deathly quiet. Who cares Mrs. Atkins? Who really cares?

Mr. B. Foster. Middleton, Manchester.

Boots & Bullsh*t can be purchased as a book with all proceeds shared by
The Royal Leicestershire Regimental Museum Appeal Fund and the Royal British Legion.