A Personal Commentary
Even though the War was years away, we still cheered the men when they came back, as we had cheered when they left to fight. Twenty of them there were from the village, my father among them. Twenty tired men, old before their time.
We stood there on the dusty road, with our bunting and our flags, and watched as the army trucks appeared in the distance and rumbled to a halt at the edge of the village. We cheered as the men jumped down from the trucks with their kitbags and walked towards us. Wives ran to greet their husbands, and the trucks left as mysteriously as they had first arrived, over a year ago.
father had grown one or two grey hairs before he left for the War, but when he
came back his hair was as white as snow. I was eight years old when he left,
nearly ten when he returned, but I held on to my mother's hand like a two-year
old as this terrifying stranger came down the road towards me.
At first I was upset by the changes in my father and found it difficult to understand how a man who had been so full of exuberance, so warm and loving, could have changed so much. Physically he had aged almost ten years, he now spoke rarely - and never with much emotion. The first few weeks were a trial for me, before my father went back to his old job as editor of our local newspaper. He immersed himself in his work, possibly in an attempt to forget the ordeal he had been through, and we never saw much of him until the evenings. Of course he had been paid well in gold, but that was small consolation to my mother. I now realise she must have suffered greatly, seeing the man she loved practically destroyed by the War. I, of course, with the pragmatism of youth, welcomed the sudden rise in our standard of living, and soon learned to live with the reality of my new father, so different to the old, accepting (as children do) the incongruity of his suddenly advanced years.
I was eighteen when he died; not of injuries sustained during the War, but from a mild stroke, brought on (they said) from "nervous and mental shock". I mourned him in my own way, but we had grown too far apart for me to shed tears.
The War finally began two days before my twentieth birthday. I still lived in the village, having inherited the house after my mother remarried, and was now editor of the same paper my father had founded twenty years before. The War is being played out on foreign soil, so does not touch us as much as its future echoes had when I was a child, but - due to my contacts among the journalistic fraternity - I have managed to follow developments more closely than most.
It is now six months into the War, and things seem to be going badly for our side. This is old news to me. The men who came back from the War a decade ago had been instructed not to speak of the events they had witnessed, but of course many of them had. And what I have gleaned has been enough for me (and many others like me) to map out the future course of the conflict.
Of course none of what we know has ever been confirmed by the World Service. Even I, in my semi-privileged position, could find no information other than what the State will tell the populace. But I do know. All of us who live in the village know - as do other communities across the land who sent their men folk to fight (and some to die) in the future. We know that the War will rage for the next nine years, and that a desperate State is even now using the newly-discovered time-displacement technology to reach back into the recent past and conscript our fathers into fighting for King and Country.
And we also know - as does the State - that the War will ultimately be lost, no matter what steps are taken. No matter how many infantrymen are drafted in from a decade previous, the War will be lost, the Enemy will be magnanimous in victory, and life will go on as before.
Except, of course, for those unfortunates, sent back in time to pick up the remnants of their shattered lives. Even as I pen these words - which I dare not try to have printed, and which no-one save me will ever read - my father is alive and in his prime, fighting on that foreign field, the best years of his life draining away, and there is nothing I can do for him.
At least now I can grieve.