He was standing by the supermarket entrance.
Most people hurried past, lists in their hands, trolleys leading the way. It was pouring down and soggy umbrellas dripped everywhere, making the trolleys wet. Time to stop for a few minutes to buy a poppy? For most, no time to even look up. Just needed to get the shopping, get home and get dry. End of.
I watched from a distance, under the shelter of my umbrella. The rainy day didn’t bother him one bit. He was far stronger than that. A drop of rain was nothing. Not when you’ve been out in freezing temperatures, in the Arctic, protecting the cargo ships taking vital supplies to the Russians on the Eastern Front.
- The Russians were our allies and desperately needed fuel, tanks, planes and ammunition. Those Russian Convoys were desperately needed. Which is why the Germans did all in their power to bombard them and sink the ships.
No-one could survive in those icy, mountainous seas. A minute or two in the water and they’d die of cold. No point in looking for survivors. Had to leave them behind and sail on.
No, a drop of rain was no problem for this immaculate veteran, with his medals proudly displayed. I asked him about the medals and he told me he was in the Russian Convoy Club.
‘You’re too young to have heard of it’, he grinned.
I grinned back.
‘Do tell me about it’, I asked.
And that’s how I met an invisible man.
And heard his story, while some people stopped to buy a poppy from him but most walked by. Perhaps they’d already bought one.
I’m glad I had the privilege of meeting this proud man and hearing about his young self who braved the Arctic ice with his comrades, 3,000 of whom never returned.
As I drank my coffee in the coffee shop, I gazed around at the other customers. Some of them were elderly. What would their story be? How was it for them in World War Two?
It’s easy to dismiss the old and frail with not even a glance. But they weren’t always old and frail. They were the same as us once, and they all have a worthwhile story to tell, if only we’d take the time to listen. They deserve our respect and our thanks.
Who will you remember, tomorrow, on Armistice Day?
- I’ll think of my friend who never knew her father. He was killed before she was born. Every year her mother proudly attended a Remembrance service. She never re-married.
- I’ll think of my own father, who repaired the gliders that carried men to France to parachute silently into occupied territory. Thankfully, he survived the war.
- I’ll think about Afghanistan and the seemingly endless killing. I’ll think about the innocent children in that country who are addicted to drugs because it’s cheaper for their families to buy drugs than to buy food, now that their bread-winner has been killed.
But this year I shall also think about the invisible man I met on a rainy day outside the supermarket.
Who will you think of.
Header image by cursed thing, post image by US Geological Society, on Flickr