Rheindahlen Military Cemetery Visit

A very poignant day today.

I did it.  I visited Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.

It’s nowadays not easy to get to, now that JHQ is closed.  My advice is to drive there, or take the number 26 bus and bring a pair of hiking boots for the final leg from the nearest bus stop.

Today was a bright, sunny, warm day, not enough to give a redhead sunburn.  I kept my promise to visit the babies’ section of the cemetery, which I had made to the mothers of three stillborn babies.

The cemetery was beautifully maintained.  Row upon row of gravestones, most with corps and regimental cap badges chiselled in.  Some, however, had no regimental badges engraved, but perhaps an angel or a simple cross.  These were the babies’ graves in an L-shaped section of the cemetery.

Did I feel emotional?  Not until I saw one gravestone that read:

Aged 10 minutes.

And then another:

Aged 6 hours.

And yet another:

Aged five days.

When I saw those graves, it all became so, so real: the Kopfkino images of the struggle to stay alive, of pride and ecstacy of becoming a parent and then the anguish of seeing life extinguished so soon after it had come into the world.  And then not being able to visit the grave at the drop of a hat.  Does that make the grieving process easier, or does that make the process much harder?

And then the stillborn babies.  Society has changed in its attitudes towards them.  Until the mid-70’s or 80’s, stillborn babies were buried in the cemetery without even a headstone, as if, because they had not even taken one mortal breath, even for ten minutes, they were maybe not even “proper” babies.  I took photos of their section and explained to their mothers that I was not able to find their babies’ exact resting places.  Nonetheless, I received messages of thanks for sharing photos of their resting places, and that made the visit all worithwhile.  The following is going to sound very cliched.  As a single man with no children, I can – literally – only imagine what the mothers must have gone through.

Rest in peace, little ones.  Rest in peace.

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Have a poignant day, won’t you!

 

 

Cemetery Visit

I was born on dd/mm/yyyy in a British military hospital in Germany.  I am a pads brat, and proud of the fact.

The army wife giving birth before my mother died during childbirth.  I did not know that fact until ten years ago, when I was living near Oxford and planning a visit to Germany.  My dad asked me to do him a big favour and visit the grave of the mother in question, which, some months later I did.  It was a gloriously sunny day.  The Rheindahlen Military Cemetery, where she was buried, was billiard-table green and very peacefully quiet.

Two thoughts occurred to me as I stood at the lady’s grave.  Her name is Margaret.

  1. When had anyone last been to see her grave?
  2. The Angel of Death could have taken me, but chose to take Margaret instead.  Even on my darkest days, I have reminded myself of that fact.  There has to be a reason why I was allowed to live.

On Facebook among the anti-Trump, “what I am having for lunch” and cute animal photos, I recently saw some posts from two army wives regarding the Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.  Tragically, these two ladies had lost babies in the same hospital where I was born.  After making enquiries of various contacts that I know, I am intending to visit the cemetery in the next few days to visit the graves of the babies buried there, as well as to take photos and video footage to share with the mothers of these babies.  As a single man with no offspring, I can only imagine the pain these mothers will have gone through, when the Army and society in general were much more “stiff upper lip” than nowadays.  Since those first two army wives messaged me, I have received two or three other requests to visit other babies’ graves.

It is my humble duty and privilege to be living close enough to the cemetery for me to pay a visit.  Door to door: about 90 minutes.  I feel it is the least I can do for my fellow pads brats and families, to pay my respects and say a prayer by their babies’ graves.

Finally…  Some years ago, I remember a story about an army wife wanting to have her daughter’s remains repatriated some years after her burial back to England, where her parents were now living.  In preparation for the planned move, the mother came over to the grave at Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.  Standing by her daughter’s grave situated among the dozens of other babies’ graves, she told her husband:

No.  Let’s leave her here, so she can carry on playing with all her friends here.  They’d miss her terribly.

 

cemetery

Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

The Fifth Commandment: Part 2

Even though I’m not Catholic, I had been feeling a bit of guilt.  I decide to phone my Mum, hoping for some sensible, intelligent, conversation that doesn’t revolve around:

  • Ex-neighbour S: hasn’t she put on loads of weight since you last saw her?
  • Relative Y‘s gynaecological problems in great, great, great.  (I’m a modern man.  I don’t blush when women talk about menstruation, the menopause, period pains, sanitary towels, etc.  I just find the topic a week bit uninteresting on a Saturday evening.  Don’t you?)
  • Braech of confidentiality about someone elses’s personal problems.
  • Who’s the next victim of the guillotine, just like the tricoteuse women, knitting away.

Conversations with my mum tend to be somewhat negative.  If you have a bonfire, she’ll empty her bladder over it.

“It’s taking a while to get a new tenant in my house.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have used that agency.”

Sadly, my sister, V, is a mini-me of my mum, only with:

  • A single-digits reading age
  • A vocabulary of swear words that would embarrass the average dock worker
  • Even less tact and emotional intelligence than her mother

Yesterday I mentioned to our mother that V had un-friended me.

Why?  What have you done?

Not, “Why?  What happened?”  An immediate accusation.

I explained:

There was a discussion about Northern Ireland.  I was asked what I knew about Northern Ireland.  I explained I had relatives who had served there in the British Army.  V leapt in with a diatribe against Dad.  I told her politely that this was not the right forum to go into family disputes when people were debating Northern Ireland.  Nobody else is interested anyway.

Cue immediate defence of V.

But your dad is an (expletive deleted).

Ginge in Germany:

But a public discussion about is not the right place to hang your dirty laundry in public.

A curt reply:

OK.

That translates as:

You are right, but I am not prepared to speak against my mini-me.

Do you not see why that is wrong?

OK.

Do you not understand?

OK.

It just doesn’t sink in.  Sometimes, frankly, I wonder if my mum has autistic tendencies due to her tactlessness and lack of empathy towards other.  In the end I give up and say that Schatz and I havae to head out now, catch you later.

Sometimes I feel like just not bothering to call her and see how long it takes for her to contact me.  Regrettably I know it’s all my fault.  I chose to be born with the wrong set of “equipment” down below.  My fault.  Hands up.  I admit it.  I am ashamed of the bad choice I made.

Honour your mother and father, yes, good idea.  But honour and respect don’t come at the drop of a hat.  Honour and respect have to be earned.

Moses

Have a commanding day, won’t you!

 

The Fifth Commandment: Part 1

The Bible commands in Exodus 20:12:

Honour your father and your mother.

And truly I tell you, it’s a good commandment.

That’s the Biblical quotatation for you.  From theology to humour.  Now for an old East Germany joke…

A school teacher asks little Fritz:

“Fritzchen, why are you always speaking of our Soviet brothers? It’s Soviet friends.”

Fritz replies:

“Well, you can always choose your friends.  You can’t choose your family.”

Many a true word said in jest, Fritz.

This been a somewhat frustrating weekend for me.  Philip Larkin was spot-on when he wrote This Be Verse(I leave you to read the poem in your own time.  It does have a small typo.  I think the second word in the poem should begin with an “m,” not an “f.”)

My Dad, “Sunray,” is a “problem child.”  Lonely, with few friends, alienated from most of his family, with an alcohol dependency a “grumpy old man” personality.  Not exactly the most attractive thing to write in his online dating profile, but hey, ho, there you go.

Because Sunray has a low boredom threshold.  He tends to phone me every two or three times a day on Saturdays, sometimes even more than that, reaching double-figures.  The same again on Sundays, even though he knows I am out at church most of the day on Sunday.  This being even though I phone him from work three times a week and end up having long chats with him, so he can tell me his “When I was in [insert name of garrison town]…” war stories again and again.  And again.

And again.

And Again…

This Saturday I relented and called him back to keep him quiet.

Another anecdote about Fallingbostel 1965, which I’d heard only about…. ooooh… some fifteen times this year…

Three minutes into the call Sunray declares:

Anyway, I don’t want to chat any more.  Bye.

Two hours, three hours, four hours later, more phone calls from him.  That was the pattern on Friday.  This time, on Saturday, I ignore the calls, probably much to his chagrin.

As Schatz was here, I decide to pull out my landline cable to get some peace and quiet.  Later in the evening I re-connect the landline.  More phone calls from him, not leaving a message.  Then at about 20:00 the calls stop.  He’s probably drunk his quota of rose wine and climbed into bed for the night, muttering his mantra, “Every single f*cker’s been f*ckin’ me about.  Sick and tired of it.  People f*ckin’ me about…”

Enough about Sunray.

Have an honourable day, won’t you!

Close your curtains

The Dutch are said to be very Calvinistic.  At least, I guess, the Protestant Dutch are.   One sign of their Calvinistic nature is the fact that, allegedly, the Dutch don’t have curtains.  Yes, they even indulge in, cough cough, hum, hum, with the curtains open.  Personally, notwithstanding my Protestant faith in this 750th year of the Reformation, I prefer curtains.

Let me take you back to 1979.  Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister for a few months.  In those days TV often finished most evenings at just before midnight.  Saturday late evening TV consisted of:

  • Match of the Day (for the football)
  • Parkinson chat show
  • The Rockford Files (with Jim Garner)
  • Finally: the national anthem and a long “booooooooooooooooooooooooop”

Saturday evening, approximately 23:20 BST.  Victor and his two sons, aged 9 and 10, had hitch-hiked all the way from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, all up the motorway, courtesy of several truck drivers, needing to rant to somebody about their divorces, the price of petrol, etc, etc, and a football sales rep.  The final stretch from Leeming Bar Motel on the A1, to the Yorkshire hamlet of Burrill, was, however, done by taxi.

Father and sons arrived in the hamlet.  A short O-group (Army-speak for planning meeting).  Time for Army black warped sense of humour to show its face.  From the OP (observation post), near the hamlet church, Sergeant Victor (veteran of Northern Ireland) and sons notice that the living room curtains are open.   Grandma and aunt are watching The Rockford Files.

Three males tiptoe forward, using Victor’s military skills, to see without being seen, to hear without being heard.

Three males crouch down below the window sill.

On three…  one… two… three!

Three heads slowly rise above the window sill.

Two backsides leap out of their armchairs.

Three males roar with laughter.

Two female relatives feel their heart rates jumping.

Seconds later, three male relatives enter via the front door, ready for a nice pot of tea, pork pie each, sliced in two, with a dollop of Branston chutney on a small plate.

Have a Calvinistic day, won’t you!

Birthday Nostalgia

So, last week was my birthday: 21 again, and more.

Where was I on that day of the year…?

  • 10 years ago: Doing pgce teacher training in Middlesbrough.  Not my cup of tea.  Ler’s just leave it at that.
  • 20 years ago: Started my first ever permanent job, working in the International Programme Liaison team at Mercury Communications Ltd.  I did a lot of telecoms courses in that year.
  • 30 years ago: At sixth form college in Middesbrough, re-sitting my O-levels.  That was where I started studying Russian.
  • 40 years ago: At Wolfenbüttel Primary School, near the East-West German border, being sent to the headmaster’s office to take a phone call from my Dad, then stationed at HMP Maze, Northern Ireland, to wish me happy birthday.

Have a nostalgic day, won’t you!

Sunray Still Alive

Wednesday morning.  I’m pairing socks on my sofa.  Glenn Miller American Patrol playing in the background.  Incoming call on my mobile.

Sunray’s number comes up.  He has not phoned me on my mobile number for nearly two years.  Is this the call where a stranger’s voice tells me:

“Hello.  Is that German Ginge?  Could you sit down, please?  I’m sorry to tell you…”

It was not to be.  It was Sunray himself.  At least he was sober.  Well, it was 0930 in the UK.  Give him time.  He was fine, thanks.  Actually, no he was very, very down.  Nobody cares about him.  Nobody comes to see him.  He does not very often leave his house.  No, he does not want to go to the library.  No, he does not want to go to coffee mornings to go out and meet people.

Clearly he is in a rut, and it is hard to kick-start someone when they are that deep in the mud.

But, but, but…

I can’t help but asking if some people are “only happy when they are unhappy,” when they can portray themselves as victim.

Nobody from the Royal British Legion (charity for ex-servicemen and women) has been to see him since they were contacted four months ago.  How shocking.  How inept.  How uncaring.

A blatant lie.

A liar has to have a good memory.  His is clearly very poor.  He himself told me two months ago about two lady caseworkers visiting him for coffee and chat.  I myself had a long phone call with one of his caseworkers two months ago, whotold me about his:

  • Alcoholism
  • Drink-caused accidents at home
  • Callouts to the ambulance
  • Discussions with the alcohol nurse as follow-through
  • Constant drunken calls to people in his address book at all times of the day and night, in once case, fifteen (sic) times in one day

Then he tells me the (expletives) from the Legion have not sent a single person to see him.

It’s my birthday in less than a week.  It’ll be forty years to the day since one morning I was asked to come to the headmaster’s office at Wolfenbüttel Primary School, Germany, and take a phone call from Sunray on duty at HMP Maze in Northern Ireland, wishing his first-born a happy birthday.  I think of where his now.  Choose the action, choose the consequences.  You cannot always rescue a drowning man, without you risking drowning.

Have a sober day, won’t you!