Friday, 23 April 2010

What's In The Box Dad?

My Seven year old son often asks me that. The box in question sits atop a cupboard in the kitchen.

'Oh not much' I say to him as I glance up at the little wooden cube.

That's not true. The box contains a little piece of my life that my son knows nothing of. It has two steel discs inside its battered walls. The letters and figures punched into the discs would have told the men who found my dead body what my number was. My date of birth. My religion and my blood group.

There is also a medal in there. Its ribbon has long since faded and the Queens face is dulled and no longer shines.

Another steel disc lives next to my two. It is inscribed with a language I do not understand. The Arabic symbols must also represent another soldiers basic details. I found the enemy dogtag in a destroyed position. There was no body just a disc.

There are also some photographs. They are sealed in a plastic bag and I have not looked at them for a long time. They are moments of madness, despair and horror captured forever in time. Bloated broken faces stare out of them. As do the tired, frightened and homesick eyes of a teenager at war.

Somewhere inside that box is a child. A child with a rifle who didn't come home. My Mother still mourns his loss and he is seldom spoken of. I try to remember him and how he was before. But like the boy himself the memory has gone.

One day I will bury the box far away from the curious eyes and mind of my young son. But not yet...


  1. CSR...don't bury the box. Your son has a right to know what you did and what you went through. He'll be that much prouder of you if you do tell him and let him see the ephemera of your war.

    I know I'd never bury my Dad's medals.

  2. Not sure he should see the pictures Cato.. In fact I know he wont - But the other stuff.. We'll see.

  3. He will grow into a man, and as a man should know about your past. When he's a man let him decide, as your own parents let you decide.

  4. I think you are right Mrs R... What worries me is what he might think of his old man. But it must I think be his decision in time.

  5. Heck. Just reading that brought a tear to my eye and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

    Keep the box my friend.

    I was fortunate once to acquaint an ex-army photographer who had served in-unit in both Malaya and Aden. He showed (a very much younger) me his collection of slides (thousands of them) detailing the routine horror, endless tedium and plain silly moments of jungle warfare.

    All these years later, I don't recall so much the grotesque and horrific sights captured by his cameras. Instead, I remember a smiling happy bunch of impossibly young soldiers stripped naked and washing in a hilltop clearing thousands of miles from home. The weary and miserable faces of those waiting to be choppered out of the tropical heat to civilisation. The lines of captured arms stretching into the horizon.

    I didn't know those men but I do carry some of their memories, albeit gained second-hand. I think that's important, indeed a privilege and I'm honoured to be able to tell part of their story.

    Respectfully, I suggest one day you allow your son to share your memories and experiences of war, good and bad. Believe me, its gift and I treasure those given to me by a man who had the courage to pass them on.