I woke this morning with one thought on my mind, parade. A day which for me is such a special day, a chance to pay respect to all those souls who made the ultimate sacrifice over two world wars and a large amount of other conflicts, but more personal to me, three guys from my Battalion who never returned from Afghanistan. Fighting a war that they bavely volunteered for, fighting a war in the hope that Afghan’s would be able to live a life more freely, to live a life being able to make choices for themselves and above all, fighting the terrorists who threaten our free world on their home soil in the hope that they will not need to fight them on ours.
I got up, sorted my personal admin and, with a little help from my Wife, got in to my newly issued uniform. My medals were pinned to my shirt, my boots were being worn for the first time, my wheelchair bag was packed with the items I may potentially need for the day and I was ready for breakfast. While I was having my cereal and coffee the doorbell rang. My Mother in Law had arrived to stay with the children and get them ready to make their way to Vivary Park in Taunton to watch the parade. I finished my breakfast, cleaned my teeth and as soon as my Wife was ready, I was loaded in to the Chucklebus. We then said goodbye to the kids and made our way to Taunton.
We arrived at one of the car parks close to Vivary Park and after getting me out and locking up, we left for the church in the hope of meeting up with my Company. We got to the church but there was no sign of my lads, I assumed that they must be inside but as my Wife and I were discussing if we should go in and see or wait five minutes to see if they had not yet arrived, the Mayors party, distinguished guests and church choir walked in. Crap. This would now make the decision for us, we would follow them in and sit where we could. As it was there was a seat for my Wife just inside the door and a parking place for my wheelchair just in front of her seat, perfect. Whilst I was not sitting with my Company, I was in the church for the service. The service was pretty good actually, thought provoking, with many references to the fallen over the years as you would expect for a service of Remembrance.
The service finished, the Mayors party left and everyone filed out of the church. I briefly stopped outside to say hello to Captain Barnes from my Company as I had caught the eye of my OC Major Webber as he made his way out of the church. My Wife and I then made our way as fast as we could from the church, through the shopping precinct and to the entrance of Vivary Park where the laying of the wreaths would take place. At the entrance to the park I spotted my female Corporal friend from our Company, she is unable to march at present due to an injury so she was to meet the OC and hand him his wreath. My Wife went in to the park and met with my Mother in Law and the children while I waited with my friend. As we stood in wait, I spotted a face that I was sure I knew. If I was right, it was a guy who had been in my Platoon when we had our T A Centre in Yeovil, he left to join the regulars, the Parachute Regiment, and it had been many years since I had last seen him. I took the plunge and wheeled over to him and I was right. We had a bit of a chat and then I wished him well before he too went in to the park. I returned to my Corporal friend and after she had handed the wreath to our OC, we too went in to the park to find somewhere to stand having watched our Company march in to the applause of the public. I could not have been prouder when they marched in to that applause, it sent a shiver down my spine and put an immediate smile on my face.
I did not know whether to try to fall in with my Company or just stay in the side with the public. I did not want to mess up the ranks, especially if they were going to march back to the T A Centre but at the same time it was not a five minute job to get ready and get to the parade. I wanted so much to be on parade with them as I have for the past ten years, but things are going to be different now. I class myself as being very lucky to still be serving, to still be wearing the uniform and so to that end I can accept that it is unlikely that I will `stand` on parade with them again, but regardless of what the future holds I will ALWAYS be stood with them in spirit. The ceremony went well, the sun shone down on personnel both civilian and military with a heat that I think caught a few people out as St. John’s Ambulance crews had to deal with a few `fainters`. After the bugle had sounded, the silence had been observed, the wreaths had been laid and the parade had been dismissed, My friend and I met with my Wife, Mother in Law and the kids and made our way back to the car park where my friend would also be picked up.
We loaded in to the Chucklebus and drove to the T A Centre where one of the lads was on the gate. No sooner had we parked up and there were four or five lads waiting to get me in to the T A Centre which they did without difficulty. Once inside we secured a table for us to sit at and also some drinks. I then took the opportunity to chat with some ex members who had come for the parade and to visit and also the lads from 4 Platoon at Exeter who I do not get to see very often now. After the CQMS had called the Lance Corporals to serve the food, we got our plates and were treated to the chefs curries. The food was, as always, excellent. We finished our curry and then desert was bought out, this went down extremely well with just about everyone. A short itme after we had finished our food it was time for us to make our excuses as we had to make our way to Ilminster for the Remembrance Parade there.
Attending the Ilminster Parade is something that I have done for the last four or five years, normally laying three freshly made flower wreaths as a sign of remembrance to the three members of our Battalion I have previously mentioned but not named, they are; Pte Jonathon “KIT” Kitulagoda. Sjt Chris “REEDY” Reed and Rfn Mark “MARSHY” Marshall. To also remember the three and help me lay the wreaths are two friends, one who is still serving and one who unfortunately left the T A, both are the Godfathers of my youngest Daughter who I nicknamed `Pickle`. This year though we would not be laying wreaths but instead would have crosses placed in the ground. We arrived slightly early for the church service as we always do so that we can go in to the pub next to the church and raise a glass to our three friends. From there we head in to the church. The gate for disabled access is a little way up to the far side of the church and is up a hill, so my mate pushed me up the hill and then we came down the side of the church and waited to file in. The service was a good one which was based almost solely on conflicts that had been fought since the end of World War Two which was in excess of forty, frightening really. Once the standards had been collected and slow marched outside to the war memorial in the church garden, we all filed out to stand and watch the wreaths being laid. For me it was a bit of a trek, I had to go back up to where we had come in the gate but continue round to the other side of the church, then I had to try to get across the wet grass to get to the rest of the people watching the ceremony. This was no easy task, and had it not been for my mates help, I would definitely have been waiting for some people to pick me up off of the floor. The ceremony ended and the members of the Royal British Legion, military personnel, Veterans and Cadets fell in on the road ready to march behind the band through the streets to the local primary school. There was no way that we could get me there in time to fall in which I was really gutted about, but at least I had made it to the service and ceremony. I figure that there must not have been too many wheelchair users when the church had been built!
We got to the school to see the band and the rest of the parade arrive and once they had been told to `fall out`, I spoke to a guy that I went to school with who is a Warrant Officer in the Regular Army. Ironically, aside form last years Ilminster parade, I had previously bumped in to him after having not seen him since he had left school, walking from the cook house at Camp Bastion, Helmand Province. RANDOM! After saying goodbye to him and letting him know that it would be good to go for a beer and catch up, my family and I and my mate and his family left to go to the Stonemasons for our usual meal that we go for after the parade. It is something that we do every year. Unfortunately my other friend who is still in the T A said he could not join us this year, a bit of a shame but we were determined not to let it spoil our annual meal.
The food we had was beautiful, the conversation was based mainly on taking the piss out of each other and arrangements were made to attend the Christmas party at the T A in December. I was unable to attend last year for obvious reasons but this year I want very much to go, as it is, my friend and his wife are also going to accompany my Wife and I, which I know will be an amazing night. The meal was finished, the bills were paid and then it was time for goodbyes and return to our homes. I have had a brilliant day today spending time with my family, my Company and my close friends. Remembering fallen comrades and praying that, although it will not happen, no more of our armed forces will have the cheque cashed that they wrote when they signed on the dotted line for the amount “Up to and including my life”. That one day we may actually be able to say that conflict is a thing of the past. Unfortunately it is human nature to want what they can not have, the desire to be better than the next person is a natural instinct and the “only one person can be right” syndrome can not be cured. Religion, politics, land and technology will always cause conflict and until people can accept other possibilities and not force beliefs on others, then I am afraid that conflict will always be a part of human nature. One thing that we must not do, the thing that we must pass down to our children and Grandchildren is the importance of attending the Remembrance services. Once a year to go to church and then to honour our dead. One hour out of your lives once a year, is it too much to ask? I really hope that the younger generations are encouraged to join Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Guides and Cadet units, as they always encourage their members to attend on what I consider to be one of the most important days of the year.
THE FINAL INSPECTION
The soldier stood and faced God, Which must always come to pass. He hoped his shoes were shining, Just as brightly as his brass. ‘Step forward now, you soldier, How shall I deal with you ? Have you always turned the other cheek ? To My Church have you been true?’ The soldier squared his shoulders and said, ‘No, Lord, I guess I ain’t. Because those of us who carry guns, Can’t always be a saint. I’ve had to work most Sundays, And at times my talk was tough. And sometimes I’ve been violent, Because the world is awfully rough. But, I never took a penny, That wasn’t mine to keep… Though I worked a lot of overtime, When the bills got just too steep. And I never passed a cry for help, Though at times I shook with fear. And sometimes, God, forgive me, I’ve wept unmanly tears. I know I don’t deserve a place, Among the people here. They never wanted me around, Except to calm their fears. If you’ve a place for me here, Lord, It needn’t be so grand. I never expected or had too much, But if you don’t, I’ll understand. There was a silence all around the throne, Where the saints had often trod. As the soldier waited quietly, For the judgement of his God. ‘Step forward now, you soldier, You’ve borne your burdens well. Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets, You’ve done your time in Hell.’
REST IN PEACE MY FRIENDS.