Remembering a man I never knew…

‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.’ Hey, wait a minute – it isn’t November. These are the words we trot out (even if we do it with feeling) in November.  It’s from poet Lawrence Binyon’s Ode to Remembrance.

I don’t like wars. I feel nothing so much as a sense of waste. And I’m a pacifist. At 50 years of age I am lucky to be of a generation where I’ve never had to engage with the moral conundrum of ‘doing the right thing’ by killing other people (unless you count the Falklands and Iraq/Afghanistan). War hasn’t really touched me in my lifetime so it’s easy for me to hold my position, I realise that.  I’ve always kind of shied away from historical remembrances having the slight feeling of unease that in some way they ‘celebrate’ war. But lately, I believe I’ve come to a greater understanding of the notion of commemoration.

IMGP3113And so, for the past few years, I’ve taken Binyon’s words to heart and every morning and evening I  try to remember a man I never met.  His name was David Saunders. He was born on 31st July 1923. He died some time in June/July 1944. Just before his 21st birthday. He was at the D-Day Landings.  He was my great Uncle. I never knew him.

In the 1980’s I fell heir to his ‘archive’ which consists of photographs (both of him and that he took while in the Navy) and his letters home to his mother from 1940 onwards.  The first ‘project’ I undertook with my new computer (Amstrad) was to copy type up his flimsy hand written letters to preserve the text.   But after that it all kind of stalled.  I have kept the letters in an envelope and the pictures in a box and every so often looked at them.

I have several pictures of him on my walls – this one is in my kitchen as it reminds me that he and I had something inIMGP0183 common –  even if it be as banal as carrying a watering can.  I have pictures of him as a boy climbing trees and as a young man on board ship training a gun into the sky.

And for a year or so it has occurred to me that I could publish his archive either online or as an ebook. I have the skills and I have the technology.  Do I have the time?  Should I even ask that question. There are things in life which one makes time for.

And sometimes technology makes it easier for us.  I’m quite a ranter about how the internet can waste your time – and how there’s never anything good to watch on TV. But all day today there is something REALLY valuable and good to engage with and I urge you to do it.  Channel 4 have got a D-Day as it happens feature running online at their website and a couple of TV programmes to support it.  It is Peter Snow at his finest (proving that all those ridiculous political swingometers etc can be used for good purpose finally!) and much of the ‘evidence’ was compiled by an ‘amateur’ historian Colin Henderson who spent 19 years getting ‘the story’ together.  He deserves the greatest of respect.  And I ask myself: Do I have time to archive one man’s work? One man who doesn’t even exist in the memory any more but only through the pictures and words he left behind.  How can I not give this the time?

IMGP3111Otherwise, there is just this. This commemorative scroll  has been in a box for decades. I’m putting it on the wall now. It’s not much to mark a life by but it is a stark reminder to me that I will be wasting the memory of his life if I just keep it in a box.

I am sure that nearly everyone has some archive material of a relative killed in the war (or in a war) and I suggest that we all get our our boxes, root through them, and give the respect our relatives deserve back to them.  Do what we can to have every individual story made ‘live’ once more through the media we now have available to us.  Websites. Blogs. Ebooks.  There are so many ways.  Find a way to ‘remember’ these individuals who are of no importance to anyone any more – except to us because we are the guardians of their lives. Of their memories.  I pledge that by this time next year – by the time we come to the 70th Anniversary of D-Day I will have filled in the gaps on the life of Ordinary Seaman David Saunders and will have published something substantial for him to be remembered by.  It’s the least I can do.  I don’t believe that ‘he gave his life to save mankind from tyranny’ but he did give his life. And he was my family. I cannot remember a man I never knew. But I can commemorate his life.

The link to the Channel 4 project is http://dday7.channel4.com/?intcmp=homepage_main And you can follow the ‘story’ of seven people. I suggest you spend some time today doing just that.   Most of us have enough technology to play the live stream more or less constantly through the day.  It’s a real chance to connect with the past.  They are showing you D-Day ‘as it happens.’

IMGP3114 Then perhaps you should go into your cupboards, attics and garages and take out your own personal ‘memories’ from family members. And DO something with them.  That’s a way to commemorate. To remember. Something to write home about.IMGP3115

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About callyphillips
Writer.

5 Responses to Remembering a man I never knew…

  1. Bill Kirton says:

    Definitely worth any time spent on it, Cally. I had a great uncle who never came back from a transatlantic convoy and nothing remains of him but his name – not even a picture. My dad, on the other hand, survived but never spoke of the war. On my wall I have two scrolls, one thanking him for liberating Norway, the other from Neptune to mark his first crossing of the equator. There’s little doubt in my mind that I would have been a conscientious objector – partly because I share your beliefs about the futility of war and partly because I neither want to kill or be killed by anyone. A couple of years ago, on holiday in the south of France, I said as much when we were at a party and the conversation turned to World War I, whereupon one extremely rich woman who’d lived in comfort from day one said ‘Oh yes, there were some cowards but there were far more brave men’. Evolution still has some way to go.

  2. Do it for yourself at least Cally. Who knows, it may well surface in another 70 years and someone will bless you for it. By what you say about the man, you have your own personal hero and no one can take that from you.

  3. good luck with it Cally – it’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Oral/personal history is so important. I still have my father’s and my grandfather’s archives to deal with. The latter was a World War I hero and, since he was a paedophile, has a mixed resonance for me and i’ve never done anything much with his memoir, war diary etc, but perhaps it’s time I did.

  4. Julia Jones says:

    Wonderful and I will look forward to reading whatever you dig out. Am not going to do it myself however as I feel that any time I have that I can give to mum is also supporting a post-war victim.

    • Yes Julia, of course supporting the living is a priority over remembering the dead! I’m just lucky that for this period of time I can devote myself to ‘simple’ pleasures without too many actual burdens, (or responsibilities, for sickness etc. These times are few and far between, I know that. So I want to use my time wisely.
      Love the living! Remember the dead. Do what you can. And what you feel you should. That’s my mantra.

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