By Kristian Partington
Tears well easily in the eyes of Victor Bayliss this morning. Emotion is heavy, for it’s Remembrance Day and the veterans he counts as neighbours at The Village of Taunton Mills have taken their seats at the front of the Town Hall. They prepare to lay their wreaths and remember the friends they lost so long ago, mere boys filled with nothing more than the courage to challenge those who would challenge true freedom, that and the hope they might return home.
Victor was just a boy at the dawn of the Second World War, but his older brothers served and he remembers all too well the fear he felt then, knowing they might never return like so many of the other sons of Gloucestershire, then a rural farming town in Southwest England.
He remembers waking some nights to the steady, almost rhythmic sounds of German bombers flying overhead as they circled back towards the English Channel, having left their cruel payloads in the midst of Birmingham, Southampton or London. The sound still echoes in his mind today.
He remembers the German plane that crashed not far from his home and the story of the boys that found the pilot, taking him to a farmhouse for a pint of ale and a bit of food before the military police arrived to take him into custody.
He remembers his wife Shirley’s pain; he carries it for her now after she passed a year ago. Remembrance Day was always hard for her, he says. She was only 11 when her father was killed in the Battle of Dieppe in the summer of ’42. Her grief would well to the surface with the sound of the bugle on Remembrance Day.
Victor’s grief is raw still and I’m honoured to sit beside him as the village marks this solemn occasion. He tells stories of the children from the cities who came to live in Gloucestershire as refugees from the larger target cities. A boy named Teddy lived with his family for five years. Others never left the rural countryside, he says, even after the war ended.
There were other wars, Victor reminds me. His best friend spent months in a POW camp after he was captured in Korea. When he returned, he was never the same. I tell him of my brother, a Canadian soldier who was in Kosovo and Afghanistan. He, too, was different when he left the army, I say. How could he not be?
Everyone’s been touched by war and conflict in some way, Victor says, “and you know the worst part?” he asks. “There really were no winners.”
People on all sides lose so much in the face of war, and it’s for these losses that Victor weeps. It’s for these losses that we must never forget.