For 69 years they rested within a sock drawer; kept first by him, then his widow and now his aging daughter. Safe, treasured, but almost forgotten; the contents were wrapped carefully within a Foodland shopping bag.
Spill everything out on the table. There is a hand drawn map of northern Europe with all of the significant towns marked and dated. There is also his brown cloth Soldier’s Service Pay Book filled with authorized proof of training, his next of kin and milestone dates of medical examines, inoculations, embarkments and disembarments. The final date and a signature sit on a line beside the word: discharge.
The cashe also contained four small white jewellery boxes. Each box contains at least two heavy nickel medals, each with its own distinguishing ribbon. Among them are two of the coin-like Defence Medal and two of the France and Germany Star. Two of everything. This is what was left after the uniform came off.
The most significant prize can be found slipped into the side pocket of the Soldier’s Service Pay Book. It is a letter addressed to him, dated July 28, 1944. It is from his older brother who had shipped out for France before him. There are three sheets of 5 x 7 inch paper, fragile with age but still intact. The small cramped script covers both sides of the paper. Many times over the years a magnifying glass has been brought and used to study every word; looking for further clues and understanding.
For the most part his brother’s letter is cheerful. He jokes about the soldier’s rations. Apparently everything comes in a can, from carrots and potatoes, boiled sweets or chocolate bars and cigarettes. He talks about losing his sense of time as each day runs into another. He has had plenty of mail from home but weeks go by and then the letters all arrive at once. Just before he signs off the letter, he promises to find out where his young brother is located, borrow a jeep and come over for a visit.
That’s it. His last letter. He died in action seventeen days later. A great emptiness fills the space. So many emotions have spilled over, changing slightly over the years depending on the guardian. Perhaps initially there was extreme sorrow, guilt for having survived and thoughts of waste, futility and loss opportunity. These were replaced with feeling of great pride, appreciation and love. There is always sadness and loss as old memories are replayed.
The medals go back into their little white boxes, along with the handwritten map, and the Soldiers Service Pay book. The brother’s last letter is again tucked into its envelope and slipped between into the cover sleeve of the pay book. With loving tenderness they all go back into the Foodland bag, safe again but largely forgotten.