For several years, I went to the Service of Remembrance to take photographs and talk with Evan, who served on five continents in the Second World War. Evan was always very humble about what he did for this country during that war, and I don’t think he ever fully appreciated what his service meant to others.
It took a couple of years of getting to know Evan before I realized that, although he attended every year, many aspects of the Remembrance Day service meant very little to him. The service began in the church, and he had already told me that he was never a religious man. One year I asked him what he thought of while others were praying and the Last Post was played. He told me that he thought of one boy, well they were both boys back then, a friend of his, and they had signed up together. Evan’s friend had died on the ship out to India. He died of dysentery. It was a horrible death, Evan said. They had both signed up to go and fight a war. Yet this was such a futile end to his friend’s life without a single shot being fired.
“I could think about any one of them that are gone”, said Evan. “Owen and I were just eighteen. We volunteered to go. At that age, we thought it would be exciting.”
Looking around the parade ground, there seemed to be less people attending the service than last year and quite a few less than the year previous.
“It was nearly seventy years ago and a few more of us are dying every year,” Said Evan. “Of course, it’s nice to catch up with friends that are still with us, but not everyone wants to come every year. Sometimes it’s better to try and forget.”
The grounds of the memorial park are well used and appreciated by the people of this town. There are several gardens, children’s playgrounds, the lido and sport’s fields for the County Cricket team. When my children were very small, we often walked alongside the river to feed the squirrels. The park occupies a large prominent area of land, often competing with the needs of the town center businesses for car parking or other developments. In the afternoons, many of the people, working or shopping in the town, bring their lunch into the gardens. There are concerts here in the bandstand throughout the Summer. One of the biggest events of the year is the annual fireworks display. Families come down to the town from the valleys to enjoy the display in the first week of November. There is a lot happening in the park and it was many years before I first came to the Parade Ground to watch the Remembrance Day Parade. We aren’t a military family, but when I began to research the Family history that I realized how much these wars had changed the lives of my grandparents and shaped the people that they would become.
The endless November rain had frayed the edges of the posters for the fireworks display of the previous weekend. I asked Evan if he minded that so much of the park was used for these kinds of celebrations while the parade ground was well away from the main paths. The whole of the park is a memorial to the dead of two world wars.
Evan smiled, “The park was dedicated, first, to the soldiers of the Great War. That was back in 1923, a few years before I was born.” Evan pointed towards the cricket ground, “I spent many happy hours here as a child without understanding anything about the Great War. I never gave it much thought.”
Evan told me that his father never spoke about his experiences in that earlier war until his sons returned home in 1945.
“The Great War was fought in France. Soldiers went away to fight and their families, safe at home could never imagine what those battles were like,” Evan continued, “The second war, the war that I fought in, was not that kind of war. We went away from home to fight but our families were not safe. The world turned upside down. Mothers and children were bombed in their homes. Most of the dead that I saw overseas weren’t soldiers.” He paused. "When we came home at the end of war, it seemed like half the world had no homes to go back to. That’s what I remember. Everywhere we went, we saw families driven out of their homes. Starvation and disease killed most of them. We had our battles.” Evan gestured towards other old soldiers out on the parade ground. The service over, a few small groups remained, lost in conversation. “ …We’ll remember those battles but that’s not a fraction of what war really is.”
Evan said that the layout of the Memorial was perfect and he couldn’t wait until Christmas when the parade ground was filled with excited children queuing for Santa’s Grotto. “This is normal life,” He said, “This is what we fought for.”