We were there to remember my grandfather – my mum’s dad, who died when she still a baby, just a few weeks old.
It was 1941. The Second World War raging at full pelt. Men dying in battle, far from loved ones, every day.
My grandfather died at home, his family around him. His name does not appear on the Memorial at Torquay, as one of the fallen.
But he was felled by conflict as much as those caught by a sniper. His “bullet” came in the form of mustard gas poisoning, lodged in the battlefields of France in 1918.
Around 8,000 British soldiers were killed directly as a result of gas poisoning in the First World War. A further 180,000, including my grandfather, suffered injury but survived.
Seventy per cent of them were declared fit for duty in six weeks, but most were left with permanent scar tissue damage to their lungs, leaving them exposed to diseases like tuberculosis.
With effective treatment still being developed, many of those 1918 survivors, struggled with increasing poor health and died around the time of the Second World War.
Although my grandfather’s name is not on the Memorial, the service sheet read: “For those who were killed in action, or died of wounds or sickness during and between the two great wars and in subsequent conflicts.”
It was a beautiful, sunny autumn morning, gulls circling overhead, sunlight glinting on the water. A good time and place to be still and remember – to be at peace.
On our drive home, mum and I decided to take a trip down memory lane, passing the house my father built for us nearly 40 years ago, in Kingskerswell.
It’s close to the where a new major bypass is being constructed, massive engineering works tearing through ground, where – as children – we used to walk, cycle and play in the woods.
I thought of those other landscapes and lives permanently scarred by conflict, past and present: the battlefields of France; the history, homes and hopes blasted away by bombs; the towns, people and their tales being destroyed now in the Middle East.
If we truly remembered them all – I mean really truly, all of them – surely we would not forget the beauty of peace.