Friday, November 23, 2007


I went down to the remembrance service at the war memorial with my dad.

I’d bought my poppy a few days before from a lady poppy-seller outside the supermarket. She said, "I know your face. You write that column in the newspaper. Sometimes it makes me so angry I want to shout."

"Good," I thought. "Then I am doing my job."

I don’t normally go to the remembrance service. This is not because I don’t honour the sacrifices made by our service men and women in times of war. I am not a pacifist. I believe there are times when we have to fight to defend our values. It’s just that, as Will Self said that morning on the Andrew Marr programme, I don’t want to be party to a state-sponsored cult.

There are wars and there are wars. Some wars are just and some wars are not. The Second World War was a just war, being a struggle against fascism. We were on the right side.

Other wars are not so clear cut. Whose values, exactly, are we fighting to defend? In the case of the war in Iraq, more than a million Iraqis have died, and several thousand coalition troops, to defend the right of big American oil companies to steal the resources of that desperate, wounded nation.

In the case of the war in Iraq, in other words, we are on the wrong side.

The reason I went to the remembrance service this time was because my dad asked me to. This seemed like a great honour to me, to be able to stand next to my dad as the flags were lowered and he remembered his comrades.

It was a dull grey day but the sun came out right on cue just as the Last Post was sounding.

After the service we went to the British Legion for a drink, where I introduced him to Councillor Julia Seath. They began talking, and within a few minutes discovered that they had something in common. They had both been in Singapore, Julia as the daughter of a British Army officer, and my dad as a young rating in the British Navy.

They were chatting away happily about their memories of Singapore, recalling certain places, certain streets and certain landmarks, when their conversation suddenly became intense. They realised that they must have sailed over on the same ship. They were both on the same ship at the same time.

It was 1949 and the ship was the SS Orduna.

Julia said she remembered the seed cake they ate and that they used a special kind of soap to lather with as they had to wash in sea water.

This meeting wouldn’t have been possible without me. I’ve known Julia since I first came to this town and got involved with local politics.

It felt like a privilege to have been a witness to such a conversation.

Some things seem much more than just coincidence and I was glad I had accepted my father’s invitation.

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