I remember Fred C., my dear old friend. He had quite a story to tell. He ran away from a foster home when he was just nine years old, sneaked unto a ship in London UK and hid in a lifeboat. He was discovered when far out to sea and was put to work shovelling coal into the hot mouth of the boilers below deck to earn his keep. He was ninety-four years old when we met. I urged him to tell me his story; I would write it since he did not want to do so. “Oh Giselle”, – he said, “I don’t talk about it.” Over the next seven, nearly eight years, he told me a lot, and I mean A LOT!
Fred was very gratuitous towards the Salvation Army since they were the ones who received him, the lost and lonely kid, standing on the shores of Halifax in Canada. He fought in the first WW and mentioned “Giselle, maybe your Grandfather and I were fighting on different sides, – but I like you anyway.”
He recited the poem “In Flanders Field the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row…” to me and I cried. The Canadian Government flew him and other veterans who were over 100 years old to visit the Flanders Field on the 80th anniversary of the end of WW I. He was the proud Canadian flag carrier and he showed me the front page of a Belgian Newspaper. “I was not the oldest one”, he said with pride, “the oldest man was one-hundred-and-fifteen years old and he was in a wheelchair.” When I saw him after his return he joked: “Sorry, my dear, I cannot shake your hand, I haven’t washed mine for two weeks. Three queens have shaken my hand, I kissed the hand of one queen, and I will not wash the memory off.”
That was Fred C., serious yet always joking. Memories of him came back to me watching old and new photographs and listening to the reports of D-Day celebrations with old and new photographs and I wish I could share my memories of WWII, written down in a book with him:
“We Don’t Talk About That.”