My Father served in WWII in the Reconnaissance Corps, as a despatch rider, serving in Africa and Italy. He landed at Salerno, and if you know anything about military history, you’ll know that was an horrific conflict – all through Italy. Terrible brutality and suffering. He survived that, but not unscathed. He had bronchial problems all through his life and suffered many years of nightmares.
He never attended any Remembrance Day parades or visited any of the places where he served – many did that, but he didn’t, the memories were just too painful. He did eventually attend the Remembrance Day parade, and I’ll explain how that came about later. He especially, and my mother, as I recall, always watched the Remembrance Day Sunday service on TV. He always had the utmost respect for the Armed Forces.
He picked up many habits from that time, I’m sure. One habit he never lost, and it was so ingrained in him, was to tip his shoes or slippers back before putting them on to check for scorpions. He did it every single time. A habit learned in the desert. I don’t recall him ever putting on a pair of shoes or slippers or any footwear without tipping them back first.
The big change came for him when his rebellious son became a Christian. Quite extraordinary. He was clearly not a religious man, even though my parents sent me to Sunday School, as many did back then. As he told my mother ‘he didn’t want his son ramming religion down his throat.’ To which my mum said, ‘You leave him be Maurice, it’s doing him some good.’
Well, his rebellious son did ram it down his throat – and down my mother’s throat as well. I didn’t see it quite like that of course – and I’m glad I didn’t otherwise I might not have said anything at all. Oh to have that zeal!
Remarkably, my parents came to a Christmas Day morning service at Railway Terrace (in Rugby), where I was a member. (Thinking about it, they must have come to my baptism, but my memory isn’t clear of the order. I digress. Perhaps I could check the date?) At this service Clive Goulden was preaching. And my word, he did not pull any punches. His text was ‘And you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21) And I clearly remember that! It was a full on, both barrels, no holds barred, Gospel message. You have to understand, my Dad was a plain speaking man. He would tell it straight. A spade was a spade. He respected plain speech.
We went home after the service, and before we ate, I was asked to give thanks. I’m not sure if it was after this service, but they both said ‘what terrible sinners they were.’ My parents were good folks. And they thought so too. So this confession of being sinners, especially from my Dad, was a really big deal!
As things went on my Dad softened towards the things of God. Then one time they were away in Bournemouth on holiday. While they were away, on the Sunday they went to the church where Harry Kilbride was the Pastor / Minister. After the service they both went to see him. Back then after the service the minister would go into the vestry and see anyone that had spiritual concerns or was affected by the ministry. This was Peter Jeffery’s practice as well. I’m not sure how widespread this was but I think a) There seemed to be a need for it. Sometimes there was a queue to see the minister out of concern for their souls. This is unbelievable! A queue. To see the minister. Do we see this now? Not to my knowledge. And b) this was what Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones did at Westminster Chapel. Whether it was a case of simply copying MLJ, I don’t know. All I know is people wanted to talk and ministers made themselves available in that way at the time.
At that time then, they went in to see Harry. After chatting for a while about where they were spiritually, and I think each was waiting for the other to become a Christian, but he told them he thought they were already converted. Somewhere along the line both had trusted The Lord Jesus for their Salvation. The evidence of this inward change was beginning to manifest itself. For the first time in a very long time my Dad and I began to have a real relationship.
Back to where we started. My parents started to regularly attend the services, eventually becoming members, and entering fully into the life of the church. It was during this time my Dad struck up a friendship with, I think at the time, a serving soldier. His name was Ian. Ian had been a Christian for many years, coming to faith, I think, through the ministry of SASRA (The Soldiers & Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association). Because of my Dads time in the Army they got on really well with much in common. It was Ian that encouraged my Dad to get his medals mounted – up to that time they simply sat in a box, almost hidden, at the bottom of his wardrobe. (Dad said they gave them out like Smarties – sweets) The other thing Ian did was to encourage him to take part in the Remembrance Day parade. Up till then, as I said, he never went on a single one. I had never been on one either. It was a great moment to watch my Dad march past (with other Veterans) wearing his Reconnaissance Corp Beret, Blazer with Badge, and his recently mounted medals. It was a great sight. I was proud of my Dad.
And that’s why, or partly why, I try to attend some sort of Remembrance Service each year. I believe we should remember and be thankful for our Armed Forces and their sacrifice. But I also attend and remember for my Dad. Dad is in Glory now. But Dad, thanks for your service.