Daily Archives: December 28, 2019

Lest we forget

My first visit to the Dunkirk Memorial was at first light, late September, over a decade ago. It was atmospheric beyond sombre as both sun and a full moon were in attendance through the dawn mist. My sister and I paid our respects to our Grandfather – Sgt Frederick Beer – who fell on 7th June 1940.

He was thirty four.

Within twenty four hours, our dear father – Howard Beer – was dead.

Sixty Eight and with a lifespan compromised by complications from a heart irreparably damaged in childhood by rheumatic fever. Even with that knowledge, we were utterly unprepared for his sudden passing. A night to remember for hideous reasons. Am I over it? No. The question is not relevant. I will never get over it.

Fast forward to Boxing Day 2019 and I am taking my family to meet Granddad. We are en route to Calais from Ghent so a five minute detour is all it takes. One could easily speed through the area on the featureless Autoroutes and be none the wiser… The teens are none the wiser, while I have been quietly consumed with grief having arranged this secret side-trip. Memories of Dad have been popping, unannounced, into my consciousness. Strange ghosts. I could have sworn I caught sight of him at the Christmas Markets, heard his laugh in a bar, smelled his Dad funk. (Although I suspect I am starting to develop my own version of that old fella odour.)

We empty out of the Mini, zip our coats and walk a few short metres to the Memorial. A sizeable cemetery, with the British section segmented. If you have travelled the back roads of northern France, you’re only too aware of the too-numerous-mention memorials to the fallen. This one is only more poignant for personal reasons.

I set the simple task of finding column 52.

Column 52 British Memorial Dunkirk

A minute or two later, the 2019 Beers (Wiltshire Division, so to speak) are facing a familiar surname. In case it’s not obvious I attempt to introduce the kids to their Great-Granddad only for my voice to falter. Now my chest is tight and my head is swirling with memories of Father and the imagination of a Grandfather. Tears come and a deeply welcome group hug follows.

Totes emosh.

I say a “familiar surname”, but it’s not exactly common, right? To get a glimpse of scale let me tell you that the (superb) Commonwealth War Graves Commission search engine reveals a dozen, twelve, casualties of war named Frederick Beer.

From our small island, so very many young men perished in foreign field.

Lest we forget.

Seafront memorial, Dunkirk 26th December 2019

British Memorial Columns

 

 

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