The Watch

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A moving sunrise to sunset vigil at the Cenotaph in London on 23 October launched the 2014 Poppy Appeal. ‘The Watch’ was inspired by the repatriation of the Unknown Warrior in 1920 where Guards of the Watch kept vigil by the coffin.

I support the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal each year, because I believe it’s important to remember the brave soldiers who fought in past and present wars for the freedom to live as we choose. I pin my poppy brooch with pride when I remember the stories of my grandparents.

This story about my grandfather, Kenneth Spooner, was retold by my mother. It reminds me what a rascal he was!

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The night before my grandfather went overseas to Europe, he left camp to visit a friend (a girlfriend, perhaps). As he was late getting back, the police called at his parents’ house in Norwood Green in London. Luckily, Ken returned to camp just as the trucks were leaving. His senior officer was furious and said: “I will deal with you Spooner, when we get back.” My grandfather never saw him again.

They crossed over to Europe at night, though not at the Normandy beaches, Ken said he was landed further along nearer to Belgium. It was pitch dark, except for the explosions, and my grandad’s troop had to climb across several rafts tied together to get to shore. Once on the beach, they were told to fight their way to the ‘green light’ in the distance. Ken couldn’t remember anything after that, except all the confusion and running across the sand with explosions all around him.

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His next memory was driving an armoured car through the forest, which he volunteered to drive so that he would always have a place to sleep. Ken’s troop had the task of flushing out any remaining pockets of German aircraft.

From his memories and nightmares, my mum thinks this must have been my grandad’s most frightening experience during his service. So it reminds me of his great courage.

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Eventually Ken came to Hamburg which he said was flattened by bombs, and the German children came to their camp to get food and shoes. That was how he eventually met my grandmother, which is, of course, another story.

I will never forget what an inspiration my grandparents were and I hope they would be proud that I wear my poppy today.

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14 thoughts on “The Watch

  1. How beautifully retold Emma. Made my eyes water. Sadly I never realised quite how extraordinary my parents were until after they had died. It’s amazing how much more we find out about loved ones while having to sort through their papers when they’re gone. Last year was particularly poignant for me while spending time with nanny’s family in Hamburg. It was a privilege for me to visit the places where my parents had met and lived before the RAF sent dad back to England in the hope that he would give up his pregnant German girlfriend. Of course grandad didn’t desert nanny and she eventually came over to England and they married in a nick of time before my brother, also Ken, was born.

  2. Lovely and moving post, EST, and how wonderful to have those photos. But I think the dowager might say the word “giirrrlfrrrriend” with some distaste. She probably be fine with “pregnant” though! RH

    • I wouldn’t like to presume what the dowager might think, she’s far too intimidating! Glad you enjoyed the post, RH. Grandparents give us so much as well as good stories, it would be lovely if they were still here – I think they would have liked my bees 🙂

  3. I just got back from Eastern Europe and learned so much on WW1 and WW2. Funny though, it was from the opposing countries. I am amazed they don’t hold grudges to us in the States – at least they don’t say so. Moving story and so much to learn.

    • I saw! Your trip looked amazing, Donna! Well, I can only say from my family’s perspective in Germany that they didn’t want the war anymore than anyone else, and there are no grudges. Who wants war or a grudge? Not many people, I think. So I wear my poppy for all my grandparents including my German great grandfather who I never met. Nanny said her father opposed his children joining the Hitler Youth and so was sent to fight in France where he died. Moving stories that are important to remember why we should learn from their courage and hopefully the world could get along better…

      • I agree. All my relatives are from Germany and I have to say I had a real uneasy feeling when being told the stories. I did not know of such horrid happenings and also what people in these countries experienced to that great extent. The devastation seen yet today teared my eyes. I also was amazed at the friendliness of the people everywhere I went. I find living in a tourist area myself, foreigners are often very reserved and a bit standoffish. Most times they are not a open and friendly. I talk with many, helping with directions and such, but the warmness is usually missing. In their own countries they are very warm. Me, I am just a bit outgoing and affable so I guess I think many are too.

      • There’s always more to history we’re taught in schools which I learned from my family, and feel privileged they shared their stories 🙂 And yes, sometimes difficult to hear. Um, as a naturally reserved Brit, I can’t comment on the other! 😉

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