Mary Smith sighed as she prepared her meagre evening meal. Bloody rationing… As if life were not miserable enough, what with the bombing, people going away, close friends and acquaintances wiped out overnight with no chance to say goodbye properly; I mean, you just carried on as usual (as much as you could) and you didn’t make a big thing of farewells - it seemed to invite bad luck somehow. Family taken away to feed the War Machine, some never to return, (like her Jack in the Last Lot) and on top of all this, you couldn’t get a decent meal unless you knew someone “on the Black” or you were lucky enough to know of a good grocer/butcher/fruiterer who crossed off your “Points” with pencil so that you could rub it off and go elsewhere. Meat was such a luxury - oh! So many things you just couldn’t get any more. Still, she supposed it was just one of those things everyone had to put up with; “Keep the Home Fires burning” until everyone who was coming home came home, and things got back to normal. Normal…. Would things ever be really normal again? She very much doubted it.
To help her through the meal, she started to daydream, a thing she had been given to doing since she couldn’t remember when. She found it very therapeutic; she was anything she wanted to be as a small child - a fairy, a film star, a rich lady in one of those magazines people read all the time. But after her marriage to Jack in 1917, the daydreams had faded for a while, until the war, and pregnancy had brought them back with a vengeance. Jack laughed at her plans for “afterwards,” and would gently tease her about them.
“We’ll be happy enough to get through this lot, and pick up our lives again with Charlie-boy here to keep us amused, without getting rich and famous.”
He insisted that the baby would be a boy, and that he would have a little sister to cherish and protect some day in the future. Mary had wanted Jack to keep up his singing, (he was possessed of a fine tenor voice,) and she felt sure that if he kept at it, he would some day become famous.
“You will be well-known Jack, I just have a feeling you will….”
“I don’t want to be famous love, I just want to be happy.” was his response to this. Still, she had had that feeling, but in the end, Jack had gone somewhere with an unpronounceable name, and had never come home. Charlie, (for Jack had been right about that anyway,) had never had a little sister, or a Father. He had grown up to be a very ordinary little chap, with a pleasant nature just like his Dad’s. Deep brown eyes like Jack’s; in fact, he was very much like his Father in every way except one. He couldn’t sing for toffee. So although her daydreams now centred on Charlie, there wasn’t anything apparent that she could light on and nag him to develop. He had a girl of course, a pleasant, dependable, plump little thing called Kitty, who lived two streets away. They had talked about marriage, but what with “This Lot” going on, they had not jumped into it like so many young couples, they had decided to wait. Good thing too. Like so many Mothers, to Mary, he was not a twenty-seven year old man with dreams and aspirations of his own; he was still her little boy, who needed guidance and moulding to achieve his full potential. There was so much he could do, if he would only put his mind to it. Like the feeling she had had about Jack, she just knew that he would one day be famous.
So when the Telegram arrived, in the middle of her meal, with the terrible news that he was “Missing, Presumed Killed in Action,” her grief knew no bounds. She had lost her only son, but more than that. She had lost her last daydream. Why had she been so sure that he would be famous? She had felt so sure about his Father too. Was it a premonition of death that she had completely misread, misunderstood? Charlie couldn’t be famous now; he wouldn’t even be coming home to rest where she could visit him regularly.
How could she have been so wrong?
What Mary Smith would never know, could never know, was that she had been right all along. She would never know that her Jack had come home all those years ago, and had become one of the most famous soldiers of the Great War, in everyone’s thoughts, minds and hearts every year.
In the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.