Thursday, 8 June 2006

sir major

‘Mind if we join you?’ I asked in my sing song voice.

The two seats on the opposite side of the table to him were the only ones available that were facing in the ‘right’ direction. My companion had an aversion to traveling backwards on trains.

‘We’re very quiet and we won’t make any fuss.’

My initial greeting was intended to put him at ease rather than to instigate conversation
But, traveling alone, the man at the opposite side of the table was more than delighted to have company.

Within moments I knew that he was traveling from Leeds to Carlisle in the hope of taking some photographs with his new top of the range digital camera and was rather put out about the tinted window glass. Almost within the same breath he talked of his Late Wife and his previous career in the Army. This sudden and unexpected exposition landed weightily on my shoulders.

The Army references became more frequent and he spoke of how he would be upgraded to first class at airport check in and called ‘Sir Major’ by the airline staff.

‘So – what did you do in the Army?’

He spoke of land mines, Serbs run down by tanks, the bayoneting of animals and the young in a village massacred by the enemy. I heard about a ‘band of brothers’, their bond firmly cemented through shared experience of battle, setting out as 80 and returning as 23. I heard about 57 letters to families telling them that their beloved would not be returning home and I was told of the period of alcoholism following these events in an attempt to erase them from memory.

He was not yet 40. Retirement had been imposed (following a botched field exercise involving 6 bullets and a lack of body armor) and had culminated in a large pay out and a trip to Venice on the Orient Express.

Away from the institution of the British Army, Sir Major had mellowed, but he still carried with him a hip flask full of forgetfulness. His eyes lit up while he shared with me the many uses of alcohol in battle, as anesthetic, fire fuel, wound cleanser and an excellent cleaner of mess tins.

As my companion and I departed, Sir Major turned to gaze out of the window, a lost and slightly haunted expression creeping over his features.

No comments: