‘Mummy, Mummy, there are flowers on the war memorial!’
‘They’re the poppies from Remembrance Sunday.’
‘No they’re not. These are new ones. Spring flowers. Daffodils and things.’
The little girl shook her fair curls and looked up at her mother. ‘Come and look. Mummy.’ She took her mother’s hand and tugged.
‘Oh, all right. It’s a lovely afternoon. I can spare a few minutes.’
Jane and her daughter left the house, crossed the village street and walked across the grass of the village green.
There they were, three sprays of flowers laid on the grey stone of the memorial; golden daffodils and blue irises, yellow daffodils and freesias, and cream and orange narcissi, freesias and Singapore orchids.
‘They look like funeral flowers. Who would still be laying so many flowers after fifty years?’
* * * * *
The next day, Jane and Amy were in the village shop when an older woman commented on the flowers.
‘Are they laid every year as a memorial?’ asked Jane.
‘No,’ said the shopkeeper, ‘there were none last year, nor the year before.’
‘I seem to remember some a long time ago. Summer it would have been. There were red roses and pink carnations … Now you mention it, there were some a few years before that. They looked like a wedding spray, lovely yellow freesias.’
‘Does anyone know who could have put them there?’
They all shook their heads. No one had lived in the village long enough to remember anyone who had died in the war.
* * * * *
Jane mentioned the flowers to her neighbour.
‘You’ve lived here a long time, Sue. Do you know anything about the flowers Amy found on the war memorial?’
‘I may be older than you, but I’m not that old!’ laughed Sue.
‘What about your mother? She must have lived through the war.’
‘We moved here from London soon after I was born, so I doubt if she’d know either.’
It looked as though the flowers would remain a mystery. Jane didn’t like to ask the older village people; they seemed to resent newcomers who seemed too nosey.
* * * * *
Later that day, Amy sat on the village green making a daisy chain with the first daisies of the spring. Jane sat on the seat behind her and watched as a car came to a rapid halt. An older woman, smartly dressed, half ran across the grass. A man followed her more slowly.
‘They’re here.’ she said, half turning to her husband.
Slowly, she walked round the memorial, reading out some of the names. She stopped at the flowers and wiped away a tear.
Jane was intrigued. This woman was older, but surely not old enough to have lived through the war.
Plucking up her courage, Jane walked towards the older woman. ‘Excuse me, can you tell me about these flowers? My daughter saw them yesterday and we’ve been wondering about them ever since.’
‘They’re for my uncle who was lost in the last war. My father’s funeral was yesterday and we arranged for his flowers to be put here after the cremation.’
‘What a lovely idea.’
‘It’s something of a family tradition now. Some of my grandfather’s funeral flowers were laid here, and so were my grandmother’s. My wedding flowers were put here as well.’
‘It sounds as if he were being included in all the family occasions.’
‘That’s exactly it. It started with my mother’s wedding bouquet just after the war. You see, he has no known grave. He was a pilot in the Far East, flew out on a mission one day and didn’t return. Missing, presumed killed. As a child, I knew him as a photo on the sideboard.’
‘Show me his name.’ asked Amy, looking up at the older woman.
‘Here, just above the flowers. In a way, my father’s name is here as well. We both have an uncle here we never knew. Dad was named after Grandma’s brother who is on the long list for the first world war and then his surname is in that of his own brother.’
‘How sad for your grandma. She must have been a very sad lady.’
‘Not really. You see, she believed in God and she believed that they were both safe in heaven with God and one day she would see them again.’
Amy ran to fetch her daisy chain from where she had left it in the grass.
‘Your daughter reminds me of me when I was her age; fair curls and knees covered with grass stains. I used to come and stay with my grandmother some weekends. If it was her week to do the church flowers, I’d help her on the Saturday and there were always some special flowers for the memorial inside the church, Bert’s flowers.’
Amy reached up and solemnly laid the daisies on the memorial. ‘Here are some more flowers for Bert.’
The older woman stooped down and with her finger traced the name carved in the weathered stone.
‘I like to think that they died so that little girls can still make daisy chains in the spring sunshine.’
I wrote this 20 years ago after my Dad’s funeral – the story of the flowers is true, set in the fictional frame of the little girl and her mum.