|40 Commando tie-pin. Best I could do.|
Freezing rain fell throughout, uniforms sagged with the weight of absorbed water, yet 30,000 people lined the route for all those hours. The population of Taunton is only 80,000, many had to work, were too old or unable for other reasons to wait in the rain. So it was a massive, defiant and stoic turnout. I was at work myself and was only distracted by the parade by a short but intense call after it had finished, from my wife asking for help in locating a blow-dryer to take to the primary school as many of the children were blue with cold.
There was a solemn inspection of the troops by dignitaries, Lady Gass, Liam Fox, and our self-important MP, Jeremy Browne. Poignantly, though, during this most pompous of moments they were reminded of the true significance of the event when a female voice shouted 'Love you, Pete.' And another, 'I love you, Josh.'
The phrase 'everyone in the town has been touched in some way...' is one of those semantic building blocks that one day computers will use to assemble the daily news from. It's a cliche. But the truth behind it is humbling. A friend giving Reiki to Lorna, the wife of one of the marines, who had been left behind to rear a cranky 8 year old and a new-born, suddenly became aware of a huge emotionality in the room. She asked Lorna if she was crying, but she said no. But of course she was, trying to hide the weight she was carrying.
I have also seen Lorna in town, or on school runs. I have noticed that she walks around like a zombie for 6 months at a time. Quiet, mousy, getting fatter, more shapeless in the face, more uncertain in social situations, dissolving inside with a deepening solitude, exhaustion and fear for her husband. He, of course, must face the hardship and hard work in Sangin. But he has the advantage of knowing when he is safe. He has comradeship, purpose and of course the thanks of dignitaries on his return.
Liam Fox, like a plumed vice consul, said we all here today to pay tribute to your dedication and professionalism. You have our deepest gratitude.' Jeremy Browne, the MP said that 'Most of us cannot imagine the strength of mind' of the marines. He was sure that they in turn 'appreciated the public's show of respect.'
But no one shouted out 'Thanks for your professionalism.' They were marching because they had the right to do so, into the arms of a town almost everyone of whose population really had experienced fear, sacrifice and even loss. The Taunton Deane mayor was closer, when he said 'there was a sense of togetherness and support that goes beyond normal relationships even expected in garrison towns'. Lorna and her friends, the blue lipped school-friends of her 8 year old, weren't risking hypothermia out of respect or gratitude, it was an act of claiming back of loved ones from the clutches of the state and of welcome. Lorna wasn't thanked, and her sacrifices weren't imagined. She was there to mutely take back her husband.
Some events just aren't news-shaped.