“Politicians start wars. Soldiers fight them” Filipe told me .
“Both my Grandfathers naturally fought in The Great War. One fought in Ypres Itself throughout the war. He was a blacksmith in the army and was assigned to several of the British regiments stationed there. He was lucky. He survived”
I sensed a real feeling of pride in Filipe’s voice and I at once felt humble, almost guilty to hear someone say it was an honour for their family to fight alongside the British. It was awkward for me and I was a little stumped for a reply. Thank goodness for the offer of a Belgian beer. There was so much I wanted to ask these guys but they were centre of attention and I felt almost fraudulent and wasteful of their time. I needn’t have worried, as my phone was passed around and the War History Online logo flashed up there were smiles and nods of approval.
“War History Online yes. Journalist?”
Well, no. Not exactly I tried to explain. Ambassador maybe but not journalist. They looked confused but continue to smile. “Dogsbody?” I said and shrugged. “Woof woof?”This they understood and laughed at. You can’t knock the Belgians for a sense of humour!
It was a poignant night. On a day that the Belgians lost and mourned the death of QueenFabiola they still had time to talk and laugh with a complete stranger from England.
After much hand shaking and slaps on the back the entourage that was the Wervik Fire Service slipped into the night being treated, and rightly so, like the heroes of the hour. Filing down the Menin Road towards the gate it was like watching so many ghosts. Almost as if it were a hundred years before one veteran fireman stopped, grasped my hand and muttered a thank you . As they walked away into the cold night I gazed into my palm and there was a €2 Euro coin, a limited edition. On the coin it read Belgique 2014-2018 The Great War Centenary.I could have shed a tear. Maybe I did, maybe it was the cold air upon my face.
At a time of debates about football matches and Christmas truces I think we should all remember an act of kindness no matter how small is such a rare feat these days. Let’s embrace them when they come along. Have a great Christmas and I look forward to a New Year with WHO and most importantly I look forward to 2015 with all you who read the reviews and brings us the news. Keep it coming guys. God Bless.