Armistice Day 11th November 2021
11th hour of the 11th day of the11th month – 33, the Masonic number, Bingo!
I went to a football match in Liverpool last weekend, Everton v Spurs at Goodison Park, Liverpool 4. No masks, no distancing, no covid checks, full pubs, a full stadium. Covid, wtf is that? Anyhow, it was the nearest home match to Armistice Day and, as is usual nowadays then, there was a minutes silence followed by the last post before the game. Not a person moved or spoke during the whole time, it was respected 100%, and it got me thinking about my youth and how different things were then……
My father went to war on 6th June 1944, he drove a truck onto Sword beach in Normandy on D day. Sword beach was primarily Canadians and the losses suffered there were light compared with other beaches. He was a signals operator and he subsequently drove his truck into France loaded with electronic stuff, plus his tent and personal stuff. Over the next year then, he followed the war front through northern France and Belgium and on into Germany. The war stopped over winter and he camped near Holland for the winter months whilst the Dutch were starving. No supplies were provided by the German occupiers to the Dutch. Many years later he met a Dutch couple in Normandy, at the 50th anniversary of the D day landings, 1994. His only ever attendance at any such event. The Dutchman told him that they were so hungry that winter that they killed and ate their pet dog.
On the way, dad visited Hamburg in Germany which he said was “a pile of rubble” and had a distinctive “smell of death”, a smell that he had experienced once or twice before in that year. He ended up on Luneberg Heath where the Armistice was signed and he also visited Belsen concentration camp which shocked him to the core. He was unable to articulate anything about that place, the tears welled up in his eyes and his throat dried up, even 50 years later….
Dad was 24 when he returned home in 1946. He had “signed up” in 1940 as soon as he was 18. He tried to sign in 1939 but his mother told the recruiters that he was only 17, so he had to wait a year. After the war he became a Waterguard Officer, a Customs Officer in modern parlance. In the port of Liverpool which was still a vibrant port in those days, with ships from all over the world. No containers, tens of thousands of “dockers” who loaded and unloaded all the ships manually. He had an interesting and very varied job with no clocking on or off, the port was busy 24/7 depending on the tide. I was born in 1950 and my bro in 1951, 13 months later. After the shock of my bro then, they worked out what was causing it, and the family was complete…..
As I said, my experience last weekend got me to thinking, and I remembered the advice of my old dad. Advice that my bro and I received early in life. He said something along these lines:
“Son, never wave a flag, never wear a poppy, never believe the misty eyed romantics who want to march and glorify war on the official day, 11th November. War is evil and should never be celebrated. Most of the flag wavers don’t know what war is either, they were mainly well away from the action. They haven’t got a damn clue. Don’t ever listen to them”
My old man was a man of his word. He lived up to his own advice. He led by example and that was enough for my bro and I. We loved to play at war with homemade toys, all boys of our generation did, but we followed his advice, we never respected the official BS, ever. Later, when I was a man, I once asked my old man, what happened to your WW2 medals dad? He replied “you played with them as a toddler, they were lost when we moved house in 1954”. I didn’t need to ask him why that was, I already knew what he thought about war, he was not proud about any of it. And I think that many youngsters in the 1950’s received similar advice.
When I first started going to soccer games at Goodison Park in 1960 [I’m 61 years a fan of the blues!] then I don’t remember any matches in November that celebrated war like they do now [I could well be wrong about that, I imagine that there were military bands and ceremonies]. Certainly the participants mainly wanted to forget not remember. Liverpool had been bombed flat during the blitz, and there were still whole chunks of the city centre that were just wasteland. “Bomb sites” we called them, still with bricks and rubble that had been bulldozed flat in the 1940's; they made handy car parks in the 1960’s. So Liverpudlians had reminders of war every single day of their lives, they had no need for flag wavers or rich men's ceremonies. It was a poor city, the country was broke and the bomb sites weren’t all finally renovated until well into the ‘60’s
To illustrate the level of poverty in Liverpool during the 1960's here is a small personal anecdote. I learned to swim in the public baths at Queens Drive, Walton, Liverpool, very near Everton's football stadium. My home in Lydiate, Lancashire was 7 miles away, outside the city in rural farmland, an easy bus ride for a 12 year old. In those days the changing rooms at the Victorian pool were individual cubicles and you simply left your clothes on a hook in the cubicle and went into the pool. The cubicle was yours for the duration of your swim. There were no locks on the outside door, none of us had anything worth stealing, or so we thought. On one occasion my bro and I went to our swimming club at the baths and had a good training session there. When we came back to our cubicles my bro found that somebody had stolen his underpants whilst we were in the pool! The thief had left his own underpants in exchange and we were both shocked to see that they were like a grey thin rag, hardly underpants at all. The owner was so poor that he didn't own any proper underpants. We felt rich in comparison, we had a few pairs of clean white cotton ones at home. Needless to say my bro returned home with no underpants that day.
Liverpool was a tough place in those days. Tough folk, living in a tough city, with tough kids who took no prisoners. If you showed any weakness as a kid then you became a victim. My bro and I had season tickets for the "boys pen" at Goodison Park, literally a fenced enclosure at the back of the main terrace on the Gladwys Street end. It was for 16 years old and below only, in theory anyhow; it was half the price of entry for the adult sections. Needless to say that, in such a poor city, there were plenty in the pen who looked over 16, well over. It was a tough place for a ten year old, but we were both big, well fed, country lads. We could bluff out our toughness, we looked the part compared with the thin, wiry, under nourished, snot-nosed urchins all around us.
Happy days, we saw the blues win the Premier League title from there in 1962/3. We saw 20 of the 21 league games at Goodison that season and we even got on the pitch after the final game which clinched the title, beating Fulham 4-1 on the final day of the season. At three quarters time they always opened all the gates so anyone wanting to leave could exit the stadium. So we always left the pen at that point and went into an adult section, usually the Lower Bullens terrace. It was great to be with the adults. Foul mouthed, tough Liverpudlians who were generally very funny and happy, they were always cracking jokes and in a crowd of sixty odd thousand, or more, then the atmosphere was mainly great. We had a good team after all, so the games were usually good fun. But if the opponent didn't play fair then the atmosphere could turn nasty quite quickly. The pitch was like a bear pit for opponents in matches like that
Finally, going back to my Armistice theme, by the time I became an adult in the late ‘60’s then, everything had changed. Respect for convention was not our bag, the opposite we rejected all the old BS. So much so that by the 1970’s then, if they tried to have a minutes silence and wave flags at a game in November then, the silence was immediately broken by chants and derision from the younger element. God Save the Queen? Fuck off we’re having none of that shite. Up the Blues! They gave up and stopped trying for many years. It’s only now that the BS propaganda is off the scale, and all the old guys who knew the truth have gone, that they can get away with it…..