His voice comes over loud and clear despite the passage of more than thirty years. Sometimes I struggle to understand exactly what he is saying because of his strong Suffolk accent but I dare say I will soon attune my
ear. My Old Soldier was 90 years old when he sat down with an interviewer to record his experiences in the Great War of 1914 - 1918. It is my privilege, all these many years on, to listen to the story he has to tell.
Regular readers will remember that I have signed up for a new project called Military Voices. I have volunteered for both the Interviewing Team and the Research Team. Why volunteer for one team, when you could volunteer for two? That's what I say. Mr
B sighs and says "Trust you!" Or words to that effect.
I have only listened to the CD once but already I have gathered some vital information. My Old Soldier wanted to fly. He wanted to join the embryonic
Royal Flying Corps and fight the enemy from the air. When war was declared, he went straight down to London from Suffolk to sign up - only to be turned down for service in the Flying Corps. He never quite understood why, he told his interviewer. I can still
hear the regret in his voice, all those years later.
Instead he found himself in the Royal Engineers and posted to France where, far from wheeling across a foreign sky - a magnificent man in a flying machine
- he found himself in the mud of the trenches, fixing fences and setting wires out in No Man's Land, watching the Germans patrolling their trenches just 100 yards away. He is mostly careful not to dwell on the horrors of the Somme - though he does let slip
the horrific experience of walking through muddy terrain and seeing an arm here, a leg there, tragic remnants of fallen comrades.
Next week I have a training session at the Library where I will meet up with
other members of the Research Team. My homework beforehand is simply to listen to the CD - but, being me, I haven't been able to resist searching for my Old Soldier in the 1901 and 1911 Censuses. I am pretty sure I have found him, too.
There are lots of details I wish the interviewer had asked my Old Soldier back in 1983. A bit of family background like when and where he was born, where he was living at the time of the interview, how life treated him when he came
home from The War to End All Wars. It serves as a reminder to me to ask some of these basic questions when I come to do my own interviewing. My Interviewing Partner, Peter, and I are waiting expectantly for a name, an address and a date. We can't wait.
I have put in a special request to interview, if possible, a veteran of the Africa Campaign in the Second World War. I am not alone, I know, in wishing I had asked my dear Dad more about his wartime experiences out in
the desert. I'm pretty sure he would have been happy to tell me, too. What a wasted opportunity! But maybe, just maybe, I could interview someone who would have served alongside him?
In case you are concerned
that all this is too sombre a way of filling my days ahead, then I must reassure you that I have plenty of exciting times in prospect. None less exciting than Thursday's "Lunch and Theatre Trip" with the Youngest of the Darling Daughters, the latest of our
bi-monthly outings. We are off to see "Billy Elliott" before it closes its long West End run. We have both seen it before but it's definitely one to see again.
Ah, yes, Billy Elliott. Thanks to an inspirational
dance teacher and a father prepared to swallow his prejudices, he was able to follow his dreams and allow his ambition to take flight.
My Old Soldier would have envied him that.