Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Untimely passing of a war veteran

I had a phone call this morning at 8.20am to tell me that Wally Burns died last night.

He'd been unwell for ages with broncho-emphysemia, but that didn't stop him playing his usual role of organising the Burma Star veterans' annual get-together. I sat next to him at lunch on Sunday, and he was so disconsolate at the loss of his wife Phyllis's handbag, that he hardly ate a thing. Apparently, his condition deteriorated despite medical intervention over the two following days, although he did not take to his bed, but carried on, taking his time, getting around the house as best he could. He even gave an interview about the theft to the Echo the day of his death. In the end he struggled from the bathroom at bed-time, got into bed and simply died there. He wasn't the kind of person to give up. He just carried on to his last breath, a true old soldier, and mainstay of St Michael's Church and the old Cathays community. Maybe the shock hastened his end. Maybe it was sheer shame and sorrow at the defilement of a church by conscienceless thieves.

When I visited Phyl, she was obviously sad, still waiting for the impact of his death to hit her, but also expressing her gratitude for the sixty one years of their marriage. Many of her contemporaries have been widowed for a decade or so. Many more were widowed in the same war from which Wally emerged as a survivor from one of its harshest campaigns. That's something his offspring, down to his great grandchildren, will not forget.

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