Soldier X | Part Two, London

Soldier X | Part Two, London

 

 

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London

 

I went into a public-house to get a pint o’ beer,

The publican ‘e up an’ says, “We serve no red-coats here.”

The girls behind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,

I out’s into the street again an’ to myself says I:

O its Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;

But its “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,

The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,

O its “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

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My dad and I liked Kipling and even when he was quite old I saw him read Kim again, probably for the third or fourth time. He also wrote a journal:

We moved from Queen’s Park just before I was 8 years old.

My Dad, your Granddad got a job in a school with a caretaker’s cottage, Lower Place School; a right rough area by the Grand Union Canal. Only housing there was us and a gypsy encampment. Harlesden was the nearest station. There were a lot of minor villains there, blokes always in and out of borstal or prison. Families on benefit, kids with no shoes or trousers, the teachers had a box of old clothes and shoes in the cupboard.

Eddie Stevens was my friend, a nice lad, locally born, his father had died.

Like me he also passed the 11+ but could not go on to a grammar school as they were too poor. He was a quiet lad and a very good artist; he later joined the RAF and got shot down and killed.

Summer of 1939 and the talk was of Germany invading various countries in Europe. We all knew it would not end there. Chamberlain tried to stop Hitler going in to Poland and went to Munich and came back with a promise; “that little scrap of paper” it was called. It brought us time though; we had no armed forces really, only a navy. Been run down by governments, Lloyd George and Baldwin I suppose. I cycled a lot.

Just before I left college I started going to evening classes (night school it was then). At Wesley Road school, for a couple of nights a week. I took a national certificate from 7pm until 9.30pm. I had to walk and got told off if I was not home by 10pm, which was quite frequently. I took maths, physics, trigonometry, and engineering drawing. Later on I did a drama class as well. Not really my scene but I joined it because a girl I knew wanted to join but was too shy to join on her own. Tall, lovely long dark hair, good figure and looks, everyone fancied her. Violet Domain her name was, don’t know what became of her.

I have never visited the places my Dad grew up and talked about when I was a kid. He took me to see Queens Park Rangers play Birmingham City at St. Andrews when I was about 9 or 10. That turned me into a life-long Blues fan!

The last time I went to London it was to visit the Royal Artillery monument at Hyde Park corner. Have you seen it? The monument is is stark contrast to many other war memorials of the time. Jagger, the sculptor said that he felt strongly that the design should unashamedly focus on the events of the war, noting that it “should in every sense be a war memorial”. There were concerns on the committee that the design would offend some members of the public, especially women, but the RAWCF eventually voted 50 to 15 in favour of accepting the design and the proposed cost of £25,000

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When I was taking these pictures an American family, Mum, Dad, two small children were also taking pictures and the father told the children to stand in front of the monument, and then he told them to climb up and sit on the feet of the Gunner.  I had this moment . . . and in this moment I fantasised about a Vietnamese prostitute.

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In this fantasy though, she posed against the black, polished granite of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. Imagine that for a moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wouldn’t she be as much a reminder of American invasion as any monument?

 I didn’t say anything to the American tourists about their irreverence because I think that war memorials are difficult things. We don’t really know what to do with them.

Places are easier keepers of memory, especially buildings. Pubs are easy, they are part of an ordering system for the memories we carry around with us; The Falcon, the Rifle Volunteer the Black Bear, The William IV, The Lamb, the Grey Horse. We understand their purpose and IF memory is articulated through the places we use, IF the places we visit and inhabit help us to remember time and our passing through it, then pubs are important. We know what pubs are for, but what about memorials?

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