“The last time I saw my Dad,” he says simply. His father, who he can't remember, was killed before he was two. Then his widowed mother at Buckingham Palace, receiving her husband's decoration.
“You must be very proud of him,” the King said. Huge pride, but empty arms.
Telling a friend last night, it all came back: the bleak exhaustion, scarcity, endurance and wry humour. So different from today, but the childhood training is still there, like a corset, holding me up in bad times. I saw it in action recently with a newly widowed friend. She summoned from somewhere deep within, almost on automatic pilot, the grit to pick herself up each day and carry on. From where? I wondered. From her wartime English childhood.
It is a huge strength to know that one does survive – somehow. I have seen it in the broken houses, dusty bricks spattered with resilient wild flowers, the people sharing cocoa night after night, sleeping in the subways under London's bombing. When 9/11 struck, I turned to my husband, “We are lucky, because we KNOW you can rebuild.” We know in our bones because we have been there.
“Grandad,” her voice bubbled down the phone. “Thank you for getting me invited. I want to do it properly. I want to help them remember him.” And another generation carries the legacy of courage forward.