Tag Archives: Remembrance Day

Veterans on The Street

Britain’s wars have been part of Coronation Street throughout its six decades. From the 1960s to 1990s, there were veterans of the World Wars and, in the 2000s, the war in Afghanistan. For the two World War veterans, the actors were informed by their personal experience.

Albert Tatlock MM

albert tatlock wikipediaIn the beginning was Albert Tatlock. Google him: “grumpy” is often in the first line. He was young Ken Barlow’s neighbour and friend. Grumpy, yes, and disparaging of the youth of the day. But he had his reasons. He had signed up with the Lancashire Fusiliers in WWI. On July 1, 1916, they went “over the top” at Beaumont Hamel. There were 57,000 casualties that first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Albert was 21 years old in 1916. So you can see why he might have got testy about young men of that same age, like Ken, whining about the existential angst of their 1960s world.

Albert’s war medals made appearances long after he had departed. He had left them to Ken. In 2014, Tracy sold his Military Medal, infuriating Deirdre when she found out. The medal was restored to the Barlow household, and so was peace.

Jack Howarth portrayed Albert Tatlock. He too was a WWI veteran of the Lancashire Fusiliers. He died in 1984, two months after his last appearance on Coronation Street.

Percy Sugden

albert tacklock and percy sugden 1983 coronation street past and present wikiNear the end of Mr. Tatlock’s life on Coronation Street, a veteran of WWII moved into the street. Percy Sugden had been a cook in the British Army. Among his many observations on life, the best has to be: “When you’ve prepared spotted dick and custard for 150 of ’em under heavy artillery fire and not allowed one lump in that custard, you can do anything.”

Again, google him and “grumpy” pops up. He was and, again, with good reason when you compare the experiences of his youth with those of the young people of the 1980s and 1990s that he watched, and cheerfully criticized.

Bill Waddington played Percy. Like him, Mr. Waddington was a cook in the British Army in WWII. With his ukulele and comedy skills, he was also recruited into the Army entertainment troupes.

Gary Windass

In 2009, Gary Windass made a wisecrack to Gail’s father Ted Page about poppy sales being “a nice little earner”. Ted wasn’t pleased (viewers either, Corrie expected). But he explained enough about military life to interest Gary in it.

Not having regular, secure or legal employment, Gary signed up. He was sent to Afghanistan. He came home injured, after the vehicle he was travelling in was blown up. His mate, Quinny, was killed. Gary was traumatized, both about what had happened and about surviving.

Mikey North, who plays Gary, talked with veterans of Afghanistan before doing this storyline. What he learned from them showed in his portrayal. It brought it home, I think, for all of us who watched.

Jim McDonald

The news that Gary had been wounded reached the street when Jim McDonald was back. Those at the Rovers raised a glass to him and those who were killed. It’s fitting that ex-soldier Jim was there.

Jim was a Sergeant with the Royal Engineers. He had been stationed in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. Jim is from Belfast. His time there, and in the army, was never talked about much. He’d occasionally talk about his “army muckers” and Jim raises a glassone of them would show up from time to time. I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning what it was like for him being British Army. Depending on how you look at it, he was part of a force that was either occupying or defending his own land.

Peter Barlow

Peter Barlow wikipediaAccording to his back story, Peter Barlow signed up in the Royal Navy when he was 15. That would have been 1980. The Falklands War was in 1982 but, to my knowledge, it’s never been said that he took part in it. He left the navy after 20 years service. He has talked about the navy and we’ve met some of his friends from that time. But I don’t think he saw action, at least not at sea.

War is not talked about much any more on Coronation Street, but that matches with real life. But every November poppies are on the lapels of pretty much everybody on the street. Again, like real life.

Remembrance Poppy an der Manchester Town Hall 2015 HH58 wikicommons
Poppy on front of Manchester Town Hall 2015 (HH58 Wikimedia Commons)

World War I

World War I Canadian recruiting posterIt seemed like a good idea at the time. That’s the explanation I come up with for why World War I started.

Virtually the entire world became embroiled in war due to one disorganized act of violence in Serbia against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife was the politically small spark that lit big militaristic hopes and expansionist dreams.

WWI historian David Stevenson said on CBC’s Sunday Edition that negotiation and compromise could have averted war. No one imagined it would be a four-year-long worldwide bloodbath. Would they have been more cautious if they had?

According to Margaret McMillan in The War that Ended Peace, the 19th century had been peaceful between nations in Europe. Conflicts were internal, distant or between specific nations. General war in Europe was not something even the eldest person alive in 1900 had experienced. There were no memories setting off warning bells.

World War I painting by Frederick_Varley_German_Prisoners-1920
German Prisoners, Frederick Varley, 1918-20, Canadian War Museum

In The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman quotes the former German Chancellor in 1916 saying, “How did it all happen?” Then-Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg replied, “Ah, if only one knew.” During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, having recently read Tuchman’s book, President John F. Kennedy told his brother Bobby that he didn’t want somebody writing that about him in years hence. He reached a settlement with Russia. A veteran himself with a brother killed in WWII, Kennedy had memories of war.

A Family War

World War I photo British cavalry en route to Vimy Ridge
British cavalry en route to Vimy Ridge, Imperial War Museum

WWI was a family war, not just for those with loved ones fighting, but for the protagonists. The heads of the three major participant nations were cousins. Kaiser Wilhelm II and King George V were grandchildren of Queen Victoria, as was Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. The mothers of George V and Tsar Nicholas II were sisters. The Kaiser and Tsar were 2nd cousins. All had been friends since childhood. But once declarations of war started, they couldn’t help each other.

Nations piled in like a bar fight. To help friends, attack enemies, make a score, settle a score. Some had no choice: imperial powers immediately brought in their colonies. Very few remained neutral.

The end of every fight might lay the seeds for the next. The terms of peace in 1919 made The War to End All Wars become The War that Caused World War II. It also redrew the world’s map, ended monarchies, birthed the Soviet Union and led to the end of colonialism.

Youth Mourning, George Clausen, 1916, Imperial War Museum
Youth Mourning, George Clausen, 1916, Imperial War Museum

The valour of those who fought and those who mended the damage got done what had been started. But most likely they all asked themselves the Chancellor’s question, “how did it all happen?” The estimated 16 million military and civilian war dead never got an answer.

 

Poppies

My dad had a whole collection of poppies.  Mom kept the ones that we bought every year Black and green-centred poppiesand pinned them on the top of a wallhanging in the dining room.  Every November, Dad would just take one off the hanging and pin it to his jacket.  When I commented that annual poppy sale money supported the Legion, he said “I was in the war. I don’t need to give my money every year to those old farts.”

He had a point.  And since then, I’ve looked carefully at the poppies worn by people old enough to be WWII veterans.  Are they, like Dad, wearing poppies with green centres, years after black-centred ones replaced the green?  Do their poppies look like they themselves had been through the wars, as some of Dad’s did?  When I do see a battered old poppy on an old fella, I smile, happy to think there’s someone who shares Dad’s philosophy.

New Brunswick Legion car poppyBut for the rest of us who haven’t paid for poppies with the currency of our lives, we owe it to those who have, and are, to put money in the collection boxes every year.  If, like me, you lose your poppy or wear a different jacket – well, buy another one!

White or red poppies

A white poppy movement started a few years after the red poppies appeared – so that people could honour war casualties, civilian and soldier, without honouring the act of war.  I white poppy boxsuppose that’s ok.  There was a time in my life when I felt conflicted about buying or wearing a poppy.  It seemed like it was giving positive sanction to war to do so.  I even lectured a couple young cadets once when they were selling apples to raise money.  “I won’t buy your apple because I don’t support the war machine” I told them.  Oh, how absolutely pretentious was I!

I’d read soldiers saying that, in war, their primary concern was with the survival of each other. They were fighting for their own and their comrades’ lives.  Hooey, I thought back then, you wouldn’t have to worry about that if you’d just said “no to war” and not enlisted or accepted your draft call.

Canadian UN peacekeeping troops Rwanda 1994But after getting to know some soldiers, I realized that there are many reasons why people end up in the Armed Forces and few of those reasons involve wanting to fight.  But that possibility is real, and is accepted as part of the job.  When it happens, whether in war or peace-keeping missions, the danger is faced and bravery kicks in.  They do, every day, put their lives on the line.  They want to do their jobs well, stay alive and keep their buddies unharmed.

War itself may be a vicious response to green-centred poppyinternational problems, but when it happens, it’s good that there are men and women who do the job that’s necessary to end it.  And they may well pay with their blood.  And it’s their blood that is honoured by the red of the poppy.