9 November 2011

Asking for nothing but remembrance.

As time passes memories have a habit of losing their clarity. Once pristine images of occasions since passed seem cloudy and less defined. Ideas once exciting, bold and precisely outlined appear vague and as the years roll by it seems to become more and more of an effort to remember.

Some things should never be forgotten.

The 11th of November, Remembrance Day, a day dedicated to the memory of men and women who served their countries in the armed forces. A day to remember those that gave so much and asked for so little in return. A day to remember those who didn’t come home so that those they served alongside with could.

I write this now occasionally guilty in my own ignorance  for I know I have not given enough thought in my 32 years regarding this particular day. Whether it be fatherhood, my own blossoming maturity or the realisation that there are lives around me even now that are touched by the tragic loss of loved ones in the line of duty, others lost even after leaving Her Majesties armed forces, and more still left scarred by the horrors of modern warfare and enduring a lifetime of trying to forget. I am compelled to remember now, although words will never be enough.

Private Jim Weatherer  aged  23, A sheet metal worker before the outbreak of World War 2 served with the North Staffordshire regiment as a machine gunner.  He crossed the English channel as part of Operation Neptune (which was mobilised as part of Operation Overlord) and landed on Sword beach on June 6th 1944. The landing forces primary objective was to take the strategic stronghold of Caen. Having crossed the beach and scaled the French cliffs they met German resistance in the form of ground troops and the 21st Panzer division.

On August 2nd 1944 a telegram arrived at Joan Weatherers door informing her that sometime during the fighting her husband had being severely injured. The taking of Caen was taking a lot longer than the allied forces had at first thought and whilst taking heavy enemy fire a shell had exploded and blown a hole under Jims chin. Crawling away from the carnage and trying to avoid any further shelling he was then hit by a sniper in his left leg. Bleeding profusely he managed to roll into a ditch. After a time he heard a vehicle approaching his position. He’d seen his friend killed earlier that day and now he had a choice to make, does he lie in the ditch and bleed to death or does he try and attract their attention in the hope of finding aid? Knowing full well that if the passing vehicle was occupied by enemy forces he would be shot on the spot he raised an arm in an effort to be noticed . A Canadian infantry man appeared over the edge of the ditch.

The half track, part of the Pegasus Regiment stopped and hauled him aboard as the German shells continued to fall all around. Though the vehicle was hit and badly damaged they managed to get him to a field hospital where he was given immediate medical attention. His injuries sustained included a badly damaged arm and he would never be able to use it fully again and he spent the next twelve months recovering from his wounds in a hospital bed. For him the war was over.
                                                           Preparing to land on Sword Beach

He was one of the lucky ones, returning to a country fit for heroes, or so the politicians all said. Unable to return to his former profession and qualifying only for low level, low paid work he was granted a War Pensions Allowance to supplement his earnings. He got a job working in a local biscuit factory, and seeing as his employers provided him with a uniform  the War Pensions Department  declared he would not need an allowance that included clothing costs and reduced it accordingly. Every time his hard work earned him a raise, the War Pensions Allowance would diminish his payments. The country that he fought for, lost the use of his arm for and saw friends killed for was beginning to forget him. He was glad to be free of the system that seemed to  penalise him for making his own way in life, this after serving his country in its greatest hour of need, all because he earned a wage through honest hard work that they deemed no longer needed supplementing.
Whilst it is true that the media occasionally covers the efforts of our brave service men and women  in various hot spots around the world, it is all too easy to forget their daily endeavours as they slip further and further down the headlines in favour of the latest celebrity scandal.

Few ex-soldiers say they saw the things they witnessed, committed the acts they did for Queen and country, or for some political ideal that sounds great on paper in the warm halls of Parliament, but not so much in the arid deserts and mountains of somewhere like  Afghanistan. They say they fight for those around them, so that they may go back home to their families and loved ones. They say they fight for their brothers.

Jim Weatherers bravery that fateful day and the chance encounter with the Canadian infantry man that followed  means that approximately 37 people are alive today,  my father, myself and my daughter among them. It is an honour for me to share my Grandfathers  name in part.

                                     Dedicated to Private James Forrester Weatherer  (1920 – 1986)

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