Tommy and the Tin. (A story for remembrance day)
Published: October 18, 2008
Updated: October 18, 2008
Tommy, set out from his home for his Saturday morning shopping trip. This was a weekly event and there was little deviation. He was eighty-four years old, slightly stooped now with the ravages of advancing years; he was grey and thinning but never wore a hat. He was always clean, but still did look a little tatty, The fawn coloured raincoat which he obviously favoured was worse for wear, his shoes had long since lost their shine---he walked with a pronounced limp and a stick. Why the local kids ‘if they were about’ wanted to jeer and taunt him he never knew, but they did. His thoughts were ‘Well they are only kids, what do they know?’
He caught the ten forty five bus, and the twenty minute ride took him nearly to the local supermarket. This particular morning just before entering the shop a very smartly dressed gentleman approached him. It seemed that the gentleman was giving some instructions. They spoke for a few minutes- Tommy nodded his head and then carried on into the shop. The whole trip took just over ninety minutes and found Tommy walking back up his street with a number of supermarket bags under his arms. If the children were about he would have had to endure the jibes again; he never was offered a hand to carry his bags.
After Tommy had entered his kitchen and put his purchases away he put the kettle on and made himself a pot of tea. He took the tea into the living room and placed it on his table, he then placed his coat over a chair and sat down. While sipping his tea his eyes were drawn to an old tin which had pride of place on his equally old sideboard. He never took his eyes from the tin until he had emptied his cup; he then went over and picked it up. He seemed to be having an internal battle whether to open it or not. After a few minutes he levered the lid from the old tin. One at a time he removed five medals. The medals were dull and tarnished. The ribbons were tatty and faded. Tommy didn’t seem to notice this. He took the medals to the coat he had just removed and pinned them one by one in no particular order or neatness to the left-hand side.
Tommy found himself in France the day after the invasion. His job as a driver was to shuttle between the front line and the field hospitals with the wounded soldiers. It was on one such trip whilst loading his truck. which had been hastily converted to carry the injured, that he became the target for a German machine-gunner. The German soldier was only about twenty yards away. A Bren-gun carrier quickly took out the enemy machine gunner. Tommy drove his truck back and delivered his wounded charges to the field hospital before he collapsed unconscious. He had received eight hits. Three had passed through but five bullets were still in him. Tommy woke up in an English Military hospital. He gradually recovered and papers were prepared for his discharge. He objected to this and pleaded to see the war out. His plea was accepted and he was promised light duties. He spent a short time in Northern Ireland driving military personnel in light vehicles, but not long after he was posted back to France. He found himself once more driving heavy trucks including tank transporters to the front line for the American troops. He survived the war without any more serious injuries.
The next morning, Sunday, a smart car arrived outside Tommy’s house. The driver in military uniform escorted Tommy to the car. Tommy had the same clothes on that he wore for the supermarket visit; this time however he also had his five medals hanging from his coat. The car stopped at the war memorial just beside the church. Tommy was helped out of the car and gently guided to his spot.
During the previous few weeks the Royal British Legion had been looking for a local man to lay the first tribute at the remembrance service. Someone had stumbled across Tommy’s war record and he was contacted. At first he declined, but after some gentle persuasion he accepted. He was presented with a Royal Corps of Transport Beret and badge for the occasion--his old regiment. After the two-minute silence Tommy put his beret on. An army captain walked up to Tommy and saluted him--Tommy saluted back. Tommy took the offered floral tribute. He placed his stick on the ground and walked the nine or ten yards to the memorial. He carefully lay the tribute on the base, stood up as straight as he could and then saluted the memorial. Tears were clearly seen running down his cheeks and he took a grubby hanky from his pocked and dabbed at his face. He stood stationary in the total silence for about a minute. Looking around it was easy to see other cheeks being dabbed. Tommy eventually stepped back a yard and saluted again. He them turned and walked back to his position. The Salvation Army band then played a medley of marches as the remaining dignitaries, and others lay their tributes.
When the ceremony was over Tommy was quite the celebrity. Many of the contingents from the three services were anxious to talk to him, and he seemed to be quite happy chatting to them all. Tommy was driven back home and escorted back to his door. After taking off his raincoat he carefully removed the medals from his coat. He then placed them in the tin and secured the lid. The tin was then placed back on his sideboard. The beret was placed at the side of the tin with gleaming badge pointing outwards. Tommy had had his moment of glory; he knew that he wouldn’t be wearing that beret again, or levering that lid from the battered Andrews Liver Salts tin again either.
Tommy died soon after this event.
I wrote a poem about his funeral, which I will post soon.