My Nan was the hardest woman I ever met. A life through war with a brittle Glaswegian soul tempered by me, her one and only grandchild.
Coming of age as the darkness of the 1930s fell across Europe, she came from working-class stock, her peer group ripe for destruction, the waste product of the political classes and their masters in industry. They would fall as the last generation had fallen.
In her late teens, my Nan worked as a typist in the offices of the dockyards of Glasgow. Clydebank provided the raw youth that powered the docks, building ships that sailed the globe, the last flickering flames of Empire as the ships of the past lit the torch paper of colonisation. All the men worked on the docks. None had been abroad, many had never left Glasgow. They knew little beyond the next pay packet, the pubs, the family ties of sectarianism.
Scotland has always grown great warriors. For generations they fought the English, now they would fight alongside them against a common enemy. The Germans. That’s what the young men read in the papers. The Germans again.
The call to arms came one day. The young men of Glasgow would be called to fight once more, to march forth for Queen and Country. For God! For the British Army.
The young men came to the office sometimes, to show the young ladies their new combat uniforms, the Highland Light Infantry and others. Most were full of the bluster of youth, others not so. ‘I don’t want to fight no German. I don’t hate them,’ said one to my Nan.
And somewhere in Germany, in an office maybe, an industrial place, a young man would no doubt have said the same thing.
But they went away, all those young men, and they didn’t fight the Germans after all. The young men, the future of Great Britain came back one day. Not all of them. Not many of them at all. The ones that came back had been liberated from the Japanese camps, tortured to near death on the other side of the world.
The ones who came back were dead inside.
My Nan, the hardest woman I’d ever met, cried for them. She hated the Japanese for what they had done. The young men of Japan. The young men of the world sent to slaughter.
Never again they swore. Never again swore the generation of war. The children of war, the survivors of war in memory of the dead. Never again.