Pathfinder International and Left Right Left Editor, Mal Robinson, turns his attentions to the forthcoming Remembrance Weekend reflections, remembering a stranger in particular.
There is a common theme on social media this year, highlighting people remembering certain individuals, personal to them. I thought it was a great idea and so I have chosen one person in particular, which seems apt this year.
Now you may think I would have chosen my father, Jim Robinson, a former military band Sergeant Major, who passed away in 2014, following a long illness. After all, he was my inspiration for joining the forces and in particular the Royal Air Force. Yet, I have spoken about my father at length in the past and of course will forever do in the future.
Or you might think I would have opted for fallen friends, Ben Chandler and Trevor “Oz” Oswald, both ‘Movers’ in my trade, Ben a rock of a friend in Cyprus, stationed together, whilst Oz became a second father to me, despite us meeting on leaving the RAF. We met in Afghanistan under civilian titles and formed a unique bond as if we were still in and had known one another years.
All three succumbed to the horrible disease that is cancer.
You may even think I would choose Mike ‘Fez’ Ferry, cruelly taken from us only recently. I embarked on trade training with Fez in the trade of Air Movements and at only 32 years of age, like the three gone before him, taken too young. The memory of Fez living on through many stories, mine being the time we both took a ride on the Queen’s birthday flight on the back of a Tri Star, loitering over London skies at a few thousand feet over Buckingham Palace.
Of course, I will be remembering them all and many more this weekend, a glass raised to all, yet to keep within the theme of singling out a particular someone, then I will choose a complete stranger. A person of name I still don’t know to this day and in a sense, this matters not either way, it is someone’s son, brother or friend and can be reflected by many.
He was a young lad from Gateshead. I was on repatriation duties based at RAF Lyneham, one of sadly many parades that took place on the base. Being in Air Movements, we would often oversee ceremonies at both ends of the spectrum, from Afghanistan to UK Shores, in my day Lyneham.
It seems only right I choose this guy, as I work for an Armed Forces magazine based in his home town.
This was my first repatriation parade on home shores, resplendent in number one uniform, smart as a carrot, nerves crumbling inside. I’d been drilled on what to do, but not what to expect, after all, every repatriation was different, every reaction unique.
The soldier’s family arrived and things were tense, emotions clouded the air.
We got the call that the aircraft was 10 miles out and my stomach turned to knots, heart pounding out of my chest.
The event became something of a blur, I am not sure if this was a combination of nerves and focus on doing the job, mixed with an in built desire, perhaps to block things out.
One thing that remains crystal clear and still haunts me to this day was the sight of this poor guy’s father, heartbroken and inconsolable.
I remember being stood to attention, rigid and upright, no emotion allowed to be shown, yet in the corner of my eye, this strapping bloke had simply broken down in front of me, unable to walk, such was his grief for the arrival of his young son back home once more.
I couldn’t even break ranks to rush and pick him up and comfort him, as I would anywhere else, that was just protocol and routine, besides there were others in uniform there on hand for this type of comfort. Still, I felt helpless, guilty and upset inside, such was his loss. Yet still, I had to stand still and remain ‘on parade’.
Following the ceremony as the hearses departed for the monumental honour of passing through Wootton Bassett (now Royal Wootton Bassett of course, following Queen’s honours), where thousands of the general public, led by Veterans would honour the fallen, some of the parade staff and I sat in reflection at what we had just experienced. For some it was our first and sadly wouldn’t be our last.
That day will remained engraved in my soul; a stiff brandy required afterwards, images still invading my dreams to this day.
To see the profound effects of war and the ultimate sacrifice so close, this first time, on relatives back home, brought home the realism of it all, one would block out on operations overseas.
And so, I will be thinking of this young man who gave his life defending our country and our way of life and hope somehow, somewhere, his family have found some comfort, replacing sorrow with pride in the fact their son, brother, nephew and cousin, died performing the highest of duties.
We will remember them.