Spent a beautiful day yesterday with an old friend walking four hours along the Ridgeway. This ancient track stretches along the Downs, from Lyme Regis in Dorset to Hunstanton in Norfolk. We walked the short stretch passing the Midsummer Wood,the East Ginge Down and Cuckhamsley Hill. Names as old and resonant as the land itself Which this day was dressed in white as if for Eastertide. John Betjeman had lived nearby and walked this path, no doubt in a slow melodic step.
A hare rushed by,in a distant field two deer struggled through the drifts, above kites flapped idly, looking in vain for kill. Its one of the ironies of modern life that one can spend many hundreds of pounds to walk in the Himalayas and other ‘remote’ places,and there,you can meet hundreds of people each day. Yesterday we met barely a handful.
Walking with an old friend ,means catch up time, confidences shared, innermost secrets confessed. Yesterday was no exception. The headline was the recent death of David’s father,Val Bennett whose Memorial I will attend in a a few weeks.
In the War, Val had flown with the Fleet Air Arm in the Far East. His aircraft carrier had been in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered .He never forgave the beheading of two of his captured comrades days after that surrender. Why should he?
In the first days of the peace there was a problem in keeping alive those interred in Japan’s death camps. Val flew many sorties dropping supplies to these unfortunates. So depressed were these fly boys by the plight of those prisoners that they often included their own rations in the drops. Their own rations had their names on them.
Twelve years ago a Dutch woman got in touch with Val. Her father ,now dead, was convinced he owed the last fifty years of his life to Val and his drops. Like many she was into her family’s history. She turned up at Val’s home in South Wales. She was effusive, she was grateful, she was all over Val But Val was an Englishman of a certain generation and style. He was basically embarrassed. What could he say?
John Wayne would have smiled looked at the floor and said,”Chucks, it was nothing.” Trevor Howard might have said,”I think you have the wrong man”. Arnold Schwarzenegger no doubt would have crowed,”Hasta la Vista baby,its what I do”.
But Val Bennett later said to his son,”What could I say,she wanted me to be, but I wasn’t, her father.” He gave her a cup of tea and showed her round the local cathedral. Old Ways,some survive, some don’t.