Damp socks and a moment of connecting over the war

THIS time last year we were in a London laundromat, and I was not a happy tourist.

"My beer fridge is hotter than this thing," I cried as our damp socks flopped about in the dryer.

"Ah, natives of the lucky country," exclaimed an old man sitting nearby. "My grandfather served alongside your lot in the Great War. 'Australians,' he said, 'are good fighters, drunks to a man and as mad as cut snakes'."

People around us sniggered.

"Did he talk much about the war?" I asked, steering the conversation back to neutral ground.

"Bits and pieces," he said. "Which was also what was left of grandfather after the war; luckily."

"Struth. That doesn't sound too lucky," I replied.

"Well, he survived you see. He was among a thousand volunteers from a town 'oop North' who were shipped off to the bloodbath of the Somme campaign. Guess how many made it back?"

We'd just been through the Somme, and my mind was still reeling from the horror of the loss of life in that place; on both sides. The writers of the TV series Blackadder Goes Forth summed it up perfectly; tens of thousands of men were sacrificed so General Haig could move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.

"Um, about a third of them?" I guessed.

"Just one," he answered. "Actually, it was two men, but there were only enough bits between them to make one complete man. Fortunately, grandad still had one leg and the vital organs necessary to make my dad."

We both agreed that this was very fortunate indeed.

Later, as the dryer continued defrosting our laundry, I scrawled in my diary, "Chatted with lucky Pommy bloke. Socks still wet. Grateful to have both feet to put into them. Going home."

Things, I thought, could have been much, much worse.

Greg Bray blogs at http://www.gregbraywriter.wordpress.com. Find him on Facebook: Greg Bray - Writer.

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