We are the better for them
It was an easy-going day. The cold air, wind and hail of yesterday had moved north. The frost had melted. The sun was bright and warm on my back. A skylark was singing his little heart out – a sure sign that spring was near.
It wasn’t an urgent job. Just to dig some celeriac to get ahead for that order on Tuesday. I was thinking about a subject for the column but the mind was blank. Never a hint of interest nor imagination. Then there was a change. An irritation which spoiled the morning. A slight nor’west breeze brought an unpleasant small to change the mood. Sheep. The farmer next door had planted oats as winter feed and as fast as they munched it in at the front end they deposited the smelly residue from the other end. The smell of sheep and the smell of where they had been had decided me into growing vegetables. Veges don’t need dagging or to have their toenails trimmed. They don’t run away from places where they are needed to be, or sneak through fence gaps to eat what they like. Amazing isn’t it, how random thoughts can come together and amalgamate to be an answer. The smell of sheep took me back 60 years to an old farmer. Dave Blick was a World War veteran who had a few sheep but no dog to work them. The TV and newspapers are on about the start of the original World War. That was something I could write about. I was a fifth former at college. A notice said there was a summer holiday job going. I thought I was strong enough and I could always find a use for money. It was a five mile bike ride to his place and back, but a good decision. He was old and bent and was soon to pack it in and shift to town. In Flanders he had breathed in poisonous gas which reduced his lungs to about half effective. If something needed an extra heave or a bit of speed then I was “it”. If sheep were needed in the yard then I was the “getter inner”. It was all confusion and noise. Through the dust of multiple feet would come Dave’s high-pitched directions and advice. Add in my laboured breathing and low-level swearing and you understand why I still don’t like sheep. Dave never said anything about life in the trenches well within rifleshot of the enemy, but after he recovered some of the use of his lungs he was sent to be a part of a railway company. Narrow gauge tracks took essentials from the rear towards the front. He enjoyed that. He had good mates. He came home safe but would never be totally active. So this column is a tribute to all the young men of our country who did all that was required of them in all the places and conditions they encountered. Particularly those who came back hurt and damaged but continued to battle the difficulties of product slumps and worked through the desperate deeds of the Depression. With the government gift of land that no-one else wanted, an axe, a shovel and a bag of flour, they continued the task of making a country.
We are the better for them.