One day last week on what turned out to be the final really warm afternoon of our delightful Indian summer, I was wearily trudging home from town with a load of shopping and, seduced by the warm sunshine, paused at Caffyns Field.
Save for a large gathering of gulls and crows, the place was deserted, no wine club members lurking beneath the golden autumn leaves of the trees, not even a lone dog walker.
| Read more – Southwick ‘does community proud’ as more than 1,000 attend Remembrance event; Remembrance Sunday: huge crowds in Littlehampton honour soldiers on Armistice centenary; Worthing Remembrance Sunday Service: thousands pay their respects to the soldiers of the First World War |
I chose one of the several empty benches, set my groceries down, stretched my legs and listened to the muted muttering of a crow calling from a nearby rooftop.
No sooner had I begun to drift away when a large man plonked himself down beside me, pulled a beer can from a carrier bag, popped the tab and took several large swallows. Of all the empty benches in all the world why did he have to choose the one I was dozing upon?
Then, having quenched his thirst, he leaped into a rather nasty and vitriolic diatribe about immigrants, and Poles in particular. I did not respond in any way.
He sounded so certain of his beliefs and certainty, a very wise man once said, is the product of a closed mind.
I heard but did not listen, instead my gaze shifted up from the grass around my feet and wandered across the field and over and above the dying wildflowers to the rusty coloured wooden sculpture of the First World War soldier standing his long, lonely watch there.
Thinking of the upcoming Remembrance Day and the many Commonwealth soldiers who had fought beside us and, in particular, the many Polish airmen who had battled in the skies above us, I felt a great sadness at the darkness enveloping my world.
I got to my feet and, without acknowledging his presence, left the man to his own miseries.
I knew Sunday was coming and I would see a huge crowd and many friends around the Littlehampton war memorial at the edge of that same Caffyns Field.
I knew they would be gathered there to give thanks to all of those many, whatever their ethnicity, who made the ultimate sacrifice in order that the man with the can and the carrier bag was actually free and able to express his odd feelings to a complete stranger on a warm early autumn afternoon. And it was so.
A huge respectful crowd from the very young to the very old and not even a gull to interrupt the Remembrance Day prayer or the mournful, haunting sound of the bugler and his Last Post.
A blue sky and sunshine, drifting golden oak and birch leaves, memories for many, wonderment for others, how could it have happened that so many died, how could it be that it was still happening in so many parts of the world?
Thinking of these things, I left the quiet gathering on Caffyns Field and set out for home as the band played on, marching to a familiar tune.
I was looking ahead to my Sunday lunch and a visit from my son and his Polish partner and, with any good fortune, a splendid Polish pierogi for dinner...
• If you would like to get in touch with Whispering Smith, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Benefit from an ongoing discount on your Littlehampton Gazette by joining our voucher membership scheme. Once you’ve subscribed we’ll send you dated vouchers which can be exchanged for your paper at any news outlet. To save money on your Littlehampton Gazette simply click here.