• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 11

Send him Victorious

The last time I saw my big brother Charlie laugh was in 1937, the day after George VI’s Coronation. Charlie nearly wet himself when I asked him about the words in the National Anthem. Why were we supposed to send the King, Victorias? It wasn't the season for plums and anyway, they’d be inundated at Buckingham Palace

Charlie biffed me round the head.
‘Whatever do they teach you in school?’ he said. ‘It’s "send him victorious", nincompoop.' He spelled out the word. ‘Victorious – like we’re going to be when we beat the Fascists in Spain. We were up in his bedroom packing his bag.

Ma and Pa had tried to talk him out of it when he said he was leaving the Royal School of Music and going off to fight Franco with the International Brigade. But nothing they said could make him change his mind. Even Ma telling him he should be ashamed to waste his scholarship. I handed him some socks and his plaid shirt.
‘D’you think I should take my guitar ’ he said. It was leaning against the wall and he stroked the wood, as if it was his best girl. If he didn’t take it, I could have a go, like I’d always wanted to, but Charlie never went anywhere without his guitar.
I nodded. ‘It’ll keep you company. ’
Charlie ruffled my hair ‘Good lad,’ he said. ‘It’s for our future I’m going. You know that, don’t you? Ma and Pa don’t understand. Look after them while I’m gone. ’

I wasn’t sure I did understand or that I knew how to look after my parents, but it was me who suggested we should go to the sea for the day like we always did in August. It was three months after Charlie left then and we hadn’t heard a word.


Send him Victorious

By the shore, Dad stood on the jetty as if he didn't know what to do with himself. Me and my little sister Enid were after crabs, those transparent ones that look scarcely alive. When the boat came in, Ma cried. She’d spotted the man at the back playing the guitar and thought for a moment it was Charlie.

Ma crying set me off, and Enid. Dad went to fetch us chips, but you could tell he was upset too. His handkerchief hung out of his pocket as if he'd given his nose a good blow.

Ma hugged me so tight I could scarcely breathe.
‘Don’t you ever go off like Charlie did,’ she said. I wished at that moment I were old enough to go after him, if only to persuade him to come back.

He never did return from Spain. Everyone forgot about the International Brigade when the Second World War began.
But anytime since when I’ve been obliged to stand for the National Anthem, I remember Charlie laughing while he corrected me and I can never join in the singing.