Sunday, 2 November 2008


on the bbc news today
was the story of Henry Allingham
the last British survivor of World War 1
Age 112 he was born in 1896
and still attends the Armistice Memorial
each November

i watched him with sadness
how strange to be alive at 112
My grandfather Wladyslaw, had he survived
would have been 115
a bit too much to ask of any man

But had he not died at fifty
but say at ninety
not in 1943 in Zakopane
but in 1983 in Hamilton
brought over by my father
during one of Poland's periods
of liberalisation
I'd have known him until I was 24

He could have told me a few things
how he got captured by the Tsarist Russians
how he tried to turn the locals against their emperor
how he met Janina and what the in-laws were really like
how he cheated death - instead of dying -
and how he found his wife and children again
alive after 1945 and war's end

And what of my grandmother Janina?
Imagine if she had survived the starving months on 1941-42
Got well in Teheran like my dad did
She's younger than Henry Allingham
Born in 1902
why she's practically a kid compared to him
at only 106.
She could have told me how she felt
having to be cared for by her teenage children
who helped her when and how
what it was like to be in the new reborn Poland of 1918

and maybe I'd have found out what my Polish grandparents
were really like
for myself
instead of through aged memories
of my father and my aunts
or through old letters, photos.

I envy Henry Allingham's family
i hope they make the most of the old man's longevity
but i am happy for them
as i am unhappy for myself
and my dad and my aunt danka and zofia

that Wladyslaw and Janina
did not live to 112
or even just 100.

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