23 July 2005
World War II was a global conflict which ran from 1939 to 1945. Everyone knows the events, the locations, the people, the hardware and the results. Every November school children are herded into school gymnasiums where they stand fidgeting while adults perform some ceremony. For me, and I suspect most people my age, it's not a real event. It's something that happened before we were born. It's something that happened "over there".
But once in a while, one encounters something unexpected. A short distance from my flat, in a deserted field next to the railway tracks, there's a small concrete structure. The walls are two feet thick. There are empty slots on each side for gun mounts. It is almost completely obscured by weeds. There's no plaque, no marker. It is a mute and unexpected reminder that 50 years ago, Britain was preparing to be invaded.
Shortly after I moved to Scotland I noticed that most houses were surrounded with low stone walls, each of which bore indications that at one time there was an iron fence on top. At first I assumed that these fences had simply fallen out of fashion, or some idiotic health and safety law had made them illegal. Years later I found out that these iron fences had been confiscated and melted down as part of the war effort. Every day as I walk to and from work, I pass by dozens of houses which still bear the scars of war.
Despite all the museums, ceremonies and monuments, what made the war real was an abandoned shelter and some sawn-off iron bars. And neither of these would have had the effect had there been signs pointing out their significance.