13 Dec REMEMBRANCE
Tom was a regular in the Sherbourne Arms, he was ninety five years old and had seen several Landlords come and go in the last thirty years.
He was an ex Sergeant Major in the Royal Gloucester Regiment, and had served in the First World War in the Somme. On leaving the army he applied for and got a job as head of security at Dowty Aviation, where he remained until he retired at sixty five.
His one bedroom flat was about one hundred yards from the pub and he lived a solitary but disciplined life, the army training suited him and he saw no reason to change it. He always came into the pub at seven every evening, having listened to the six o clock news, then getting dressed, polishing his shoes until you could see your face in them. He would always sit on the same stool and drank very steadily, never getting drunk and leaving at closing time on the dot. Shirley the landlady had a soft spot for him and every now and then he would got a pint ‘on the house’. He reciprocated with a small gift on her birthday and at Christmas. If ever there was any trouble in the bar Tom was always the first to stand up and try to diffuse the situation with his authoritative tone which he still had.
One night Tom called Shirley over and presented her with a sealed envelope.
“Open this after I’m gone please, I feel you are the only person I can trust”
Shirley took the envelope upstairs and put it in the safe.
“You can rely on me Tom, now how about a pint on the house?”
Tom’s special day each year was remembrance Sunday, he would dress in his full uniform and take part in the parade which finished at the Cenataph. After that he would go to the pub, at lunchtime most unusual for him, and raise a glass to all his mates who never made it. The whole pub would join him in the tribute. Then he would leave only to resume his routine and return at seven as normal.
The next year the winter came early, cold winds, heavy rain, dark evenings, poor old Tom wasn’t coping too well. When he didn’t turn up one evening, Shirley put her coat on and went to his flat. Knocking the door long and hard she got no response, the neighbour came out to see what the noise was about.
“He isn’t there luv, they took him to hospital this morning, I don’t think we’ll see him again”
Shirley went back to the pub.
“Toms in hospital” she said to her husband “I’m going up to see him”
“What now. You know we’ve got a skittles match tonight”
“Get Kathy in to cover for me, this is more important” Shirley said as she picked up the car keys.
Tom died that night with Shirley holding his hand.
She returned to the pub well after closing time and Shirley and her husband raised a drink to Tom.
The next morning after a restless night, Shirley went to the safe and retrieved Tom’s envelope. She sat down at the table and opened it up. In beautiful handwriting the letter told her of his wishes.
His funeral was arranged and paid for with Mason and Stokes, undertakers.
The contents of his flat were to be cleared by Brownings house clearance company and any money raised was to be donated to the British Legion Fund.
For his funeral he was to wear his beloved uniform.
He thanked Shirley and had every faith that she would carry out his wishes.
Wiping the tears from her face, Shirley thought long and hard about what she was about to do.
The Commanding Officer of the Royal Gloucester Regiment was very interested in the situation and readily agreed to what Shirley proposed.
The day of Tom’s funeral came and most of the regulars at the pub were there. A minibus from the Royal Gloucesters was there containing the Commanding Officer and five soldiers, all immaculately turned out they all stood to attention as the cortege drew up outside the pub. Two soldiers stepped forward, as the hearse was opened up they draped a union flag over the coffin.
Arriving at the cemetery everybody went in and as the first hymn ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ was being sung Tom’s coffin was carried in by four soldiers and placed on the bier. They all took one step back and saluted. The C.O. gave a eulogy reading from Tom’s service record and a recent history written by Shirley.
At the graveside, the coffin still covered by the union jack was lowered into the grave while a bugler sounded the last post.
Through her tears Shirley looked at her watch.
Sergeant Major Tom Griffiths was buried at eleven o clock on the eleventh of November 1982
825 words Michael White 2020