By “The Photographer’s Assistant”




The nurse peered at me over the Photographer’s mother. She was puzzled.  Mum was dying and I would have to ring the Photographer. His mother had been issuing instructions about severely injured men being delivered to her ward from Dunkirk. Three hours later she died with her mind still in her World War 2 hospital ward.

When we wear tributes and read memorials to the war dead, there are millions of people alive still thinking of wars. The Photographer’s father was involved in D day. My father was one of the first soldiers sent into Belsen extermination camp. He had times when he could not forget and there were long days of silence while he struggled to keep an ordinary life going. There were and are millions of men like him.

The worst for any of us in our family, who had to deal with the last big war, was the state my mother was in. As a child, I could hear her scream in her sleep.She had been a brave fun loving middle class girl when she joined the army. At the end of the war, she was a seriously traumatised young woman, who would never be the same again. Her brother had been captured in Burma and changed completely. These are only the close family that I knew. There were so many families like ours.

My father never wore a poppy and I only once saw all eight of his medals. He said that none of it meant anything to him. He wanted this Sunday to go away. Each single day was a remembrance to him.

Some years ago, I wrote the poem below as a very small tribute to the people we had known and were then still alive.

A November Monument

In November
The red flowers arrive
And after
He comes
The whitest hair
The blackest coat
He is so tall
An angular man
Hands are covered
In string gloves
A smart silk scarf
A slow walk
The approach awkward
This is his moment
The one that matters above all
He shuffles and is still

A soldier now
No gun in hand
No drill in this empty
Parade ground
He stands here so still
Long distant time
Echoes all around
A tear so cold
Slipping down
The silk
The black coat

A betrayal
Worn inside
A stain
Deep within.

(Copyright Sue Bennett)

This poem has been used at Remembrance services by several members of the clergy. Our parents would have been pleased with that.

This year a lone woman dressed in black, knowing that she is carrying the pain of a nation, will bravely bear the burden and in the most dignified way, lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. The Queen will do that for all of us.

I would like to in a humble way to dedicate this blog to the following;

My East German friend, not alive in the war, but profoundly affected by it

Young East and West European friends, who have felt the consequences

A Polish friend, who is still finding out

Friends who still cannot talk about it. Bless you.

Our two girls, who as a direct consequence, never knew three of their grandparents.

I promise the next blog will be more cheery. The Photographer has been making Christmas puddings!

We shall return to normal!

  1. Nathalie said:

    Thank you for sharing. Well wishes from a frosty autumn day up north.

  2. Jennifer said:

    Very powerful and moving.

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