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The Rock-itt : April 2010
knowledge and enthusiasm. Then I asked him the question, which even to this day I still regret asking. "Did any of your mates get killed, Pop?" His face suddenly turned solemn and a sombre look replaced that twinkle in his eyes. He nodded, finished the remaining drop of sherry in his glass then began to relive the nightmare which would have been haunting him all those years. This quote of what he told me is of the best of my recollection of the story. We were in the Somme Valley in the frontline trenches facing the Germans. All of a sudden a Mills Bomb (Grenade) came over and landed between us. I tuned my back toitandasitwentoffitblewmy helmet off my head and I was hit in the back as well as a piece of shrapnel going through my cheek and the top of my scalp. When I turned around after the explosion, everyone was laying on the ground. One soldier was crying out for help but the others were dead. I crawled over to him and saw his face was covered in blood, he said, "Help me Johnny, I'm blind, I can't see." I lifted him over my shoulder and started back for the rear lines and some help. I finally reached our people and a medical officer took the wounded man from me and lay him on the ground. He examined him then asked how long I'd been carrying him. I told him I had carried him from the front line. He said sorry son, but you've been carrying a dead man. Then I sat down and he started examining the wound on my scalp. When he moved his hands away they were covered with my hair and blood and then I passed out. All the while Pop was telling me this I had been listening intently, my eyes looking downward. When I looked up into his face tears were flowing down his cheeks and wetting the pages of his bible. The sight took me by surprise as I had never seen my grandfather cry before. Then I felt a large lump in my throat and my eyes started to well tears. We sat together and sobbed, and that's the last thing I can remember from that night. One afternoon in the early 1970s I received a call from the Concorde Repatriation Hospital where my grandfather had been for some time, saying that he was close to death and if I wanted to be with him for the last time I would have to hurry. I broke all speed records getting there and can still remember the sound of my feet as I pounded though the corridors of the hospital to his room. There were relatives seated outside, their faces told the story that it was almost over. As I entered the room my grandmother and Aunt Lynn were there beside the bed. Pop had an oxygen mask over his face and was struggling to breathe. I went to the side of his bed and took his hand, he seemed to exhale slowly as though it was his last breathe but I held his hand tightly and told him not to give up and to keep on going. Then as if he were following my instructions, he began breathing hard again. I could feel the tears begin to well in my eyes then roll down my cheeks, and I knew that this would be the last time I would ever look on my hero's face again and this time it would be just me and not the two of us who would shed a tear. The next time he stopped breathing I leant down and spoke to him. "Goodbye my dear grandfather, I love you so much, now rest in peace. The RAF at fist took credit for the downing of Manfred Von Richthofen (The Red Baron) but after an autopsy on the dead German pilot's body, it was discovered that a 303 projectile fired from the Australian trenches had delivered the killer blow. The bullet had gouged a deep furrow in the pilot's skull, allowing him to land his plane but when the soldiers reached the plane, the Red Baron was dead in the cockpit. Also in reports on the incident, it was noted that the plane was virtually stripped bare by the Australian soldiers who souvenired pieces of the plane. A few years ago, my Aunt Lynn (my grandfather's daughter) gave me a tin with an assortment of bits and pieces that my grandfather had collected. As I sifted though the bits and pieces I found a treasure trove of his memorabilia but there was one piece missing........the piece of red cloth from the Red Baron's plane. That is now gone forever, but the memory of that night can never be lost. ................Lest we Forget