There are no longer very many people who served in World War Two like Prince Philip and Captain Tom. We are getting to the stage when soon there will be none at all.
Captain Tom was born in 1920 and so when he joined the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in 1940, he would have been twenty. Prince Philip left school in 1939 and began training for the Royal Navy. He was still not twenty. Both Captain Tom and Prince Philip might have died almost eighty years before they did if they had been unlucky during the war. They might have died known only to their friends and family and no one much would have remembered them today. But instead they went on to greater things.
Captain Tom was unknown to everyone but his family until the last year or so of his life, but through his extraordinary fundraising activities his name became known to nearly everyone in Britain and other parts of the world too. But somehow, he has come to represent the generation of which he was one of the last surviving members. Prince Philip does too.
When I was young, I knew veterans from the First World War, but gradually as I got older, they got fewer and finally there were no longer any eyewitnesses to the Somme, Gallipoli, and Vimy Ridge. It makes those events somehow more distant until eventually they fade into history like Quatre Bras, Blenheim and finally Agincourt. They become battles we read about in books rather than the lived experience of those who fought there. Soon the same will be said of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and El Alamein.
If you were born in 1921 like Prince Philip, you would have been twenty-four when the war ended. So, we have a few more years yet perhaps. Someone born in 1927 would have been eighteen in 1945 and so might have served in the last few months. But such a person would be ninety-four today. How many years before we reach the very last Captain Tom and Prince Philip.
I couldn’t quite imagine what it would be like for Prince Philip to die before today. I cannot remember a time when he was not the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen’s husband. I knew he was not immortal. He was a human being just like all the rest of us, but still I somehow expected him to go on and on.
I still can’t imagine what it will be like when we discover one day that the Queen has gone to join Prince Philip, but she is 94 and our luck in having her is bound in time to run out. It will be a shock.
I’m not someone who follows the Royal Family closely, but they somehow embody this country like living versions of Uncle Sam or Marianne the symbol of France. I think it is for this reason that so many of share the Queen’s loss, because it is our loss too.
I like to imagine that Prince Philip was batting and that he was on ninety-nine not out. With a bit of panache, he tried to get to his well-deserved century with a six, but he slightly mistimed his shot and there on the boundary was the fielder who will eventually catch all of us. Prince Philip wasn’t much bothered. Instead he congratulated the fielder. He waved his bat slightly to acknowledge the applause for a very well-played innings and didn’t think twice about missing his century. It was worth it merely to have tried to get there in style.
Neither Captain Tom nor Prince Philip were perfect. They would have both made mistakes in their long lives. They would have said and done things that they regretted, but they both served our country well not merely in wartime but in peace too.
We have a sure and certain hope that Captain Tom and Prince Philip may now have the chance to share some memories and perhaps a pint. There will be other old friends waiting for them some they have not seen since they were young. We can hope that whatever frailties and infirmities they had will drop away leaving men who can hook a ball for six or run a hundred yards flat out.
Philip may be impatient for Elizabeth to join him. They have a lifetime of memories to share. But I hope that Philip may be willing to wait for just a little while longer. Soon there will be nobody at all from their generation and we need them still not least because they are the last link with a past that can still be shared by those who remember it.
There is no need to be particularly sad when a man of ninety-nine dies though it would have been nice if he had made his last boundary. We may be sad for those in his family who will miss him and we may be sad for ourselves that someone who has been part of our lives for so long is gone even if we did not pay that much attention when he was here.
If you have elderly relatives realise that like Prince Philip and Captain Tom, they are important people who deserve your love and attention. A life does not become less valuable because it is old or because the mind or limbs don’t work as well as they did. Each person no matter how old can still make a contribution even if it is only sharing a past that will soon be forgotten.
We were lucky to have Prince Philip and Captain Tom for as long as we did. They were both the best that our country has to offer. We could each do worse than to follow their example.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2021/04/caught-on-boundary.html