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Uncle George’s war

  • 21 June 2024
  It took Covid to kill my Uncle George at 101. He had survived some scary things during the war (‘during the war’ in our family always means WW2, the one where we beat Hitler). But did we? More about that later. He had adventures; always one to try something new. To see him at 88, scarfing down a giant bowl of mystery in one of Victoria Street’s Vietnamese phó palaces was as much an education as what he was telling us as he valiantly ate coriander leaves for the first time. (He did better than me: I loathe coriander leaves.)

He was talking about being in France in the war. It was either just before Dunkirk, or later in 1944, when the D-Day landings started the end of the gruelling, agonising grapple to save us all from Nazism. D-Day, eighty years ago this month, was at last the beginning of the end. And my God had they ever been wishing for this, desperate for it. They had already had to give up so much, so many lives, even to reach the beginning of the end (or the end of the beginning, to borrow Churchill's phrase after wins at El Alamein and Stalingrad started to turn the tide against the Nazis in 1942.) But they were tough. They had to be.

Most soldiers don’t like to talk about what they’ve been through, the things they’ve had to see; the things they’ve had to do, but. Uncle George was more willing to talk as he got older and more willing to be coaxed by a crowd of adoring nieces. His grandson, my dear cousin Tom (aka Staff Sergeant Hughes) retired this year after 24 years in the British Army. I was chatting with him recently across half the world on Facebook Messenger about our shared relative, now ancestor:


Tom: Yes, he did like new adventures, and certainly loved his food. I’d take him for kebabs in his later years – he loved those too. But overall, he was happiest with his family around him telling his stories.


And his stories were compelling.  Tom remembered one that I too had a version of, so here’s his:


Tom: The only story I have is that he was up a Telegraph pole near Dunkirk and he was wiring up a line when he heard a whistle sound and leaves falling ... He thought nothing of it and carried on, then