Sunday, 1 January 2012

A Battle Long Forgot


During the great rush up to Christmas I went all the way to Waterstone’s at Piccadilly to meet a friend for coffee and to exchange gifts and cards.
While I was waiting I skimmed through the sleek new tomes on sale nearest the door. One of them was Arnhem, The Battle for Survival, by John Nichol and Tony Rennell. Published by Penguin/Viking.
I hauled it down as my Dad was in that battle before being taken prisoner. I skim books about "Operation Market Garden" half jokingly, just in case there is ever a photo of him, the unlikely chance of his face staring up from a page, among the 35000 “sky soldiers,” hunched together in gliders, covered in straps and camouflage.
This time he was there – on the third page of photos following page one hundred, standing with a group of British soldiers and Dutch civilians just after landing on September 21st 1944.
He looks so young, ready for anything, gently smiling at the photographer. You can also see in his face, leaner than I ever saw it, a look of his sad eyed father. He didn’t usually resemble his Dad but in this photo the older man is there.
I had a rush of emotion, my eyes filled with tears as I thought how it would have been to take the book home at Christmas to show him, hear about the morning on that road. I could also have given the information to the book’s authors. But he’s long dead and nothing meaningful was ever said between us. I felt tears running down my face and I knew I wouldn’t be able to speak about it when my friend arrived.
I bought the book, took it home and showed it to my mother. I told her I’d been moved to find the photo. “You silly thing,” she said and laughed. She glanced at the page for about three seconds and agreed that it was him. She repeated a bit of the story of how he had ended up in a house in Oosterbeek owned by the Minjau family. They had been down there in the cellar with their own small children during a bombardment. A field hospital was set up in the cellar but unfortunately they had hardly anything effective to treat the wounded. The house was blown up, they were captured and Mr Minjau was taken off to prison.
“He looks like his father in that picture don’t you think?” I said.
“He never looked like his father he was like his mother,” she snapped, and that was that.
My brother grabbed the book and went home with it. When he bought it back he didn’t say much and my mother didn’t want to look at it again.
“I don’t want to be upset,” she said. A bit unlikely, and I think she was not really interested. She is 89 now and sometimes her old age seems to affect her like a terminal illness. A lassitude comes on her and there are things she just can’t be bothered with any more, and Dad at the battle of Arnhem seems to be one of them.

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