Remembrance Day made me realise that there are worse things than another lockdown.
Just over 80 years ago, at the age of 24, my father was under fire on the beaches of Dunkirk.
He wrote a detailed diary which starts on annual leave in Newton Abbot. When he heard about the invasion he travelled to Southampton and across France to join his men. He then supervised a convoy back to Dunkirk and finally boarded the ‘King William’, an ancient paddle steamer from Weymouth.
Several of his men were killed on the beaches. He commented: “It’s a good thing the sea was smooth. We would not have lasted long had there been any waves.”
But his war was not over. He joined the Royal West African Frontier Force and travelled to Nigeria where his convoy supplied the North African campaign. He finally ended up in Burma with his Nigerian troops.
Here, he developed rheumatic fever and was admitted to hospital in India. He nearly died.
Unlike his Dunkirk experience, he never discussed Burma and I have no idea what happened.
He was left with a heart problem for the rest of his life and died at the age of 53, when I was 19.
I was resitting my A-levels at the time. He never knew that I finally made it into medical school.
My mother worked at Bletchley Park decoding, got bored and joined the Army. She drove lorries before ending up working in a hospital in Belgium.
Meanwhile, my father’s younger brother was flying over Germany in Lancasters as a bomb aimer.
All we knew about my great aunt was that she had worked at Ottery St Mary Hospital. My cousin then found her diary.
It gave a detailed account of her time in London during the blitz. As bombs fell, she was on a boat on the Thames rescuing casualties.
I was named Peter after a close friend of my parents; a merchant seaman killed when his ship was sunk.
And my family is typical of their generation. Many of my patients had suffered in different ways during the war.
One man I thought was a bit ‘neurotic’ would not come to the surgery on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. His wife told me he just wanted to be at home. He hated all the celebrations and wanted to forget.
She then explained that he was a bomb disposal officer who went across just after D-Day. He then went ahead of the troops defusing the booby traps set by the Germans, often under sniper fire. I never thought of him as ‘a bit neurotic’ again.
My generation of baby boomers have a strange attitude to the war, discussing it as though they were there but in a far more jingoistic way than many real veterans.
Most of the real veterans I met were totally opposed to war. They had seen it at first hand.
My father did not even like the phrase ‘gave their lives for us’. To him, it sounded like the Japanese kamikaze pilots, deliberately committing suicide for the God/Emperor.
None of his friends wanted to die but they were prepared to take incredible risks for the sake of our freedom.
I once suggested to my Dad that we owe a great deal to his generation. “Remember,” he said, “Hitler and the Nazis were also my generation. It was our generation that got things horribly wrong.”
When I see baby boomers and younger people waving Union flags and shouting about the war, I realise this would be an anathema to many real veterans.
We owe a great deal to my parents’ generation but we can only respect their memory if we see Remembrance Day as a time to celebrate the peace as well as remember the war.