Today is special in my U.K. homeland; it’s Guy Fawkes Day! Nov. 5 commemorates, in an explosive fashion, the 1605 day that the “Gunpowder Plot” nearly resulted in the destruction of the House of Lords.
The poor schmuck who took the fall for the failed plot was none other than Guido Fawkes (a name he assumed during time as a Spanish soldier), left to guard the explosives until his fellow conspirators were set to ignite the gunpowder. His arrest resulted in bonfires being lit all over London, in celebration of the fact that Protestant King James I had survived the attempt on his life by a group of provincial English Catholics.
For us kids (and teenagers), it was known more fondly as “bonfire night,” resplendent with a roaring blaze, carefully watched over by a couple of lucky adults, and the ceremonial tossing of a “guy” (think scarecrow) into the flames. And, of course, there were fireworks, marshmallows and, somewhat oddly, baked potatoes, foil wrapped and cooked in the fire’s embers. We had hot toddies (mmm, rum) and a traditional pudding to end the night of fiery fun, though the fireworks continued for days.
We used to buy a hefty supply of “bangers,” which were simple firecrackers with the ability to blow your mitt off if mishandled, and throw them arbitrarily into family’s yards and then run like hell. We were not the most pleasant group of pre-teens come November, but we felt we were celebrating the failings of Guy Fawkes in the truest form possible. Or that’s what we told ourselves… in this country, Halloween rules the day, yet I still find memories of those cool and smoky November nights come rushing back each year.
Next Wednesday is Remembrance Day, a time for reflection and quiet thanks to those who fought for our freedom in the war to end all wars and all the terrible conflicts since. For me, it’s a day I think of my father, and his dedication to queen and country during the near quarter century he served in the Royal Navy. Truth be told, the Navy was his life, not surprisingly since he joined when he was a mere teenager, and, sadly, passed away nine years after he was demobbed.
While he never saw combat, he was certainly in harm’s way on several occasions, most notably during the Aden Emergency, when the British High Commission there (now known as Yemen) came under attack by grenade-wielding members of the National Liberation Front. When British troops were evacuated from the region in 1967, Royal Navy ships were the last to leave.
Mostly, however, my father’s Navy career allowed him to sail around the world for free, finding warm receptions wherever his ship, HMS Hermes, took him. For a young man it was a glorious life, despite the fact that he had to leave his family for lengthy periods, and it was obvious that his reluctant departure from the service left a huge hole in his life.
I entertained the idea of enlisting in the Navy for a few brief moments in my early teens, but then we moved to Canada and I discovered girls, which somehow kiboshed my noble intentions.
To all who have served their nation, in war and peacetime, I salute you!