Jim Farrar – memories of an old soldier and gentleman

I was fortunate enough to grow up on the Templegates. We had great neighbours. On one side lived two teachers who had a daughter and a son around my age, lovely people and on the other, attached to our house, a semi, an elderly couple and their daughter who was probably in her early twenties. Again, lovely people. The elderly couples, Mr and Mrs C were very dignified and unmistakably English in appearance. By and large they were always dressed in green. Mrs C dark green trousers and cotton turtleneck sweaters, comfortable shoes. Mr C could have been sponsored by Barbour, sporting the country gent look complete with thick soled brogue shoes.  They both possessed warm, kind faces.  As I said above, they were old but in my time of knowing them, I never saw them age.

Like most men of his generation, I understood he’d been to war. I have a vague memory of finding what I thought was a picture of him in a book in Crossgates library. The picture showed several young English soldiers with a German halftrack vehicle they had captured. In truth, it is highly unlikely it was him and I’m not even sure what it was that made me think it was in the first place. Maybe the young me willed it to be him because, even though I couldn’t articulate it or probably even understand it, I greatly admired him and, to this day, retain a great deal of affection for him. Our houses been joined, we often heard one another. We could hear their bird and they our telly and probably me playing with the dog. Some nights he would cry out in his sleep. My dad later explained he had nightmares. He and his wife going through God only knows what horrors on a regular basis. She never complained. She got on with it, her love unwavering and her devotion to her husband complete. I never asked about it and I was never told. I often slept soundly through everything anyway.

Both my parents worked, nothing unusual about that. Occasionally, I’d come home to an empty house, the key under the bin (which says a lot for the honesty of our binmen) and Mr and Mrs C would mind me while one of my parents came home. They’d endure stupid stuff like Michael Bentine’s Potty Time and I’d discuss the merits of various superheroes with their daughter who humoured me to the extent that she actually read the comics I lent her most weeks. In truth, old Mr C was something of a third grandfather to me and I loved him accordingly.

jim farrar poppy-leg

Some evenings we’d take over their entire backroom and build Airfix models together. To the 8 or 9 year old me building models of World War II military vehicles with a veteran of the war seemed like the most natural thing in the world. It was, to use the lingo of the times, ace. We could have two or three models on the go at any given time. Or rather, Mr C would. You see, even though I’d sit in with him and watch him build them and he’d tell me stories about them, their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, I didn’t really build them, he did. I didn’t care though; he was fantastic company, all dry humour and knowing smiles. His wife would bring in trays of biscuits with drinks of tea and milk like we were at work and in need of a break. Sometimes, when the door would open, he’d push the latest project my way as if to show her that he was sharing his toys. I can remember the look of horror on his face when I stuck the wings of a B-52 Flying Fortress on backwards. He didn’t get mad though. I never saw him get mad. I have never met a single male adult like him. We all get mad occasionally.

Our houses had big gardens that required a lot of upkeep. His place was majestic, sunflowers, roses and lilac trees. He had a beautiful old greenhouse, musty and a tad mysterious though I doubt he ever grew anything more exotic than tomatoes in it. He inspired my dad to build a greenhouse of his own. They grew rhubarb round the back. He was something of an unofficial gardener to several of our neighbours. Many’s the evening we’d spend weaving through the interconnected back gardens tending flowers, vegetable patches and cutting back tree branches. He was practical but tender. I can recall vividly the sadness on his face after he killed a mole that was running rampant on one lawn.

It’s hard for me to imagine him saying a bad word about someone let alone think he might have actually killed someone. He was such a kind and gentle man. I don’t know that he did but given the barbarism of war it’s not a stretch to speculate that he may well of been in a position to have had to. My dad thought he might have. The two of them would spend evenings in our garage involved in some project or another, eating bacon sarnies and drinking copious amounts of tea. My dad was never one to suffer fools, not easily impressed but he had all the time in the world for old Mr C. There was something there that even at such a young age, I recognized as something special, a mutual admiration.

Although we’d make models of military vehicles and he never voiced any objections to me playing war with all the other kids in the street, I don’t think he had any affection for the military. He used to tell me the army was no life for a young man. I never took this as disrespect for his fellow combatants, far from it in fact, rather a distrust of those in power. I have a tale in my head of him talking of cannon fodder and acceptable losses (acceptable to whom?) but would he really have talked of such things with a child still in infant’s school?  Like most people I have memories I’m steadfast in and memories I’ve doubtless got wrong or embellished over the years. We all do it to a lesser or greater extent. Anything I have got wrong I apologize for but this story was told in the spirit of the man and it’s a truth that is true to me. It’s one of life’s greatest ironies that the most peaceful man I ever knew is the one who probably experienced the most violence. There’s a lesson there though I fear it is one that most politicians will sadly fail to learn or even worse, chose to ignore. I’ll wear a poppy on Remembrance Sunday, I’d happily wear one every day, in honour of all the men and women who gave their lives or some part of it in the hope that we could live a better life. I will wear it in honour of them all but mostly I’ll wear it in honour of my old pal Mr C.

 

I have chosen not to reveal Mr C’s name (those who knew him will be able to recognize him from the story, I am confident of that) as our families moved houses, as people do, and lost touch with each other many years ago. I am now living abroad and had no way of contacting any surviving member of his family to seek permission to write about him. I hope this in no way detracts from the sentiment of the story. He was a beautiful soul.

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