Thank you for your service


I never used to hear that phrase and now I do.

Not just around Remembrance Day – but all the time: Thank you for your service.  Thank you for your service.  Thank you for your service.

My dad’s dad flew in the First World War. 

Pictures and stories galore of him as a young man.  He was shot down at least once.  We had a piece of one of the (busted) propellers on a wall in our house with a barometer in the hub.  My godmother’s husband rowed for England as a young man.  He had an inscribed oar on their wall.  I never knew the difference.

My mum’s dad was a captain in the infantry in the First World War. 

He never talked about it.  I only knew that he had been gassed and it affected his health ever since.  He was famous for being able to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation AND whilst reading the paper AND still keep the conversation going AND able to tell you what was in the paper.  Now THAT was really cool!

My dad fought in World War Two.

He talked of the Battle of the Naafi!  In a foreign land where deeds of honour were posted and many were lost.   We young children listened open-mouthed – enthralled at our own father’s bravery and courage.  Until he explained that the Naafi was the army’s canteen/shop – the place they all socialised!  Then we thought it was a REALLY cool story because dad was so funny!

Veteran: “a person who has had long experience in a particular field”

Maybe it’s guilt.  Guilt that we really should be grateful.  Should be tangibly grateful for one prepared to die for me.  Tangibly  grateful with more than this throwaway line of “Thank you for your service”.  But we aren’t.  Not really.

Being grateful gets in the way of living.  And being tangibly grateful means giving something more than we like to give.  Gratitude is fine when in a fleeting moment – but any more and it becomes a burden.  A sacrifice.  A cross to be carried.

>>> And all that “stuff” is what “they” died for so that we don’t have to.  Low-grade guilt is a far easier burden.   Bit like the wallpaper.  I never notice ours until someone points it out.

I think we should stop using these so-easy non-burdensome words of “gratitude”.  Like we should stop saying the so-easy non-burdensome words of “I am praying for you.” 


My dad’s dad volunteered to fly in World War Two.

He came all the way to England from Argentina by boat – turned up at the nearest RAF office – told them he had long experience in this  particular field …

And they thanked him for his service – gave him a quick sightseeing flight in a spare plane – and wished him well (as they ushered him back out of the door).  He had aged.  He was of a different era.  No longer useful in modern-day warfare.


My dad’s dad was a character!  My mum’s dad a gentler man.  My dad’s dad fired ideas of craziness week after week.  My mum’s dad lived with a wife who ruled the roost (and us when they visited).  We enjoyed my dad’s dad.  We tolerated my mum’s dad’s wife.

And yet all we knew was the surface of their lives.  The highlights.  The memorable talking points.  We never thanked them for their service.  It would have embarrassed all of us.

They were so much more than “service”.  So much more than “veterans”. 

They were real people with real jobs and real hopes and real fears – with families and all that families bring – all the day to day minutiae of real living and real dying with real people and real histories.  And that included “service” – but real people are so much more than “service”.


I think we prefer to pigeon-hole people.  Give them a label we can see from a distance.  Makes our “appropriate response” (we like to think as “connecting”) so much easier when they come close (and then we hope they go away again).

Thank you for your service?  How can I make God happy?  

Isn’t that more about me and how I want to be seen (by me?) than about any veteran –

Or any God?




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