Here’s former soldier and bestselling author, Bob Atkinson, on the importance of listening to veterans.
During a visit to San Diego, California, my wife and I visited the Shamu show at Sea World. The thing I recall most vividly about that day was this request made by the announcer prior to the show:
“Ladies and gentlemen, please give a round of applause to those men and women of our armed forces, past and present, and those of our allies”.
Now, I know San Diego is a major U.S. Navy and Marine Corps base, but I’ve never experienced anything of that nature here in the U.K.
The sad fact is the British do not hold their armed forces in the same high regard as do the Americans. The recent experiences of our troops in Afghanistan is slowly changing this perhaps, but we are a long way behind the U.S.
My father arrived home from the battlefields of France in 1945 on a hospital ship. He’d been badly injured at Nijmegen in Holland. Three years earlier he’d come home in another hospital ship, also badly injured, this time in Malta.
My dad just did not get along with the Germans.
He never talked about the war, at least not until the last few years of his life, when he began to open up about his experiences. When the boys came home from the war, he told me, nobody wanted to know what they’d been through. Anyone who tried to talk about it was seen as a bore. A blowhard. So they learnt to bottle it up and get on with life. But their experiences stayed with them all their days.
Many years ago, in the course of my work, I visited an old Highland croft-house in the back-end of beyond. The house was occupied by an old brother and sister, neither of whom had ever married. As the sister led me into the living room her brother scuttled into the kitchen, and remained there until I’d left.
“You have to excuse my brother,” said the lady. “He’s been like this since he came home from a German prisoner of war camp in 1945”. He had been captured with the rest of the 51st Highland Division at St. Valery in France, and had spent much of the next five years slaving in a Polish salt mine.
It broke my heart then, and it breaks it now to think of it: a soldier of the 51st, one of the finest divisions in the British army, reduced to this. Perhaps if he’d had counselling, been encouraged to talk about his experiences, the depression would not have taken him in his later years.
My father has been dead a long time now, but I am so grateful for the hours I spent listening as he unburdened himself. So, if there is a moral to this story it is this: If you are fortunate enough to have a family member, still alive, who served in WW2, or any conflict since then, talk to them. Today. Don’t believe this rubbish that they won’t want to talk about it. Lend a sensitive ear and they will unburden themselves.
It could be one of the most profound experiences of your life.
The Last Sunset is Bob’s historical thriller — or time travel Romance if you prefer — set in the Western Highlands in 1746 (and elsewhen!). His book has topped the bestseller charts on amazon.com and the eBook is on sale at Amazon and most other retailers until Thursday, June 27th. Follow this link for more information.