Downend's David so proud to be in People's Procession

November 27 2018

A RETIRED Downend man has spoken of his great pride to walk in the 10,000-strong People's Procession on Armistice Day.

David Powell said the experience was a privilege as he filed past the Cenotaph in London paying tribute to those who served in the First World War.

Also on his mind was his father Percy who survived the First World War but kept the horrors of the trenches to himself.

David, 75, said: "My dad was one of five brothers, three of them went to war on the Western Front and thankfully all three came back.

"My father was in the Hampshire regiment but like a lot of people he didn't speak much about it. He told me a few things but that was it. I know his regiment was on the Somme, not at the beginning, thankfully, and I know he was at the Battle of Passchendaele. He told me it was hell but he didn't elaborate.

"One story he did tell me though was pretty horrible. He was walking across the duckboards (trench gratings) over the mud as the troops were going towards the front. One of the soldiers slipped off and fell in the mud. The officers told the soldiers to leave him and my dad had to watch a man drown in the mud. My dad just tapped the man's hand but he wasn't allowed to stop.

"He also said the soldiers used to sit in the wet, sodden trenches picking lice off each other. They came from clean homes only to have to do that."

David, a retired employment tribunal panel member, said he believed his dad coped with his experiences by not talking about it.

"It was the Victorian stiff upper lip; he didn't want to talk about it much at all. It was his way of coping. I sometimes wish I'd pushed him a bit more but you have to respect your parents' wishes."

Percy was born on August 24, 1897. He had two sons with his first wife but when she died he ended up taking on a housekeeper called Edna.

Percy and Edna fell in love, married and went on to have a child together, David.

"He was 45 when I was born. My mum would have liked more but because of my dad's age she said no!"

During the Second World War, Percy was a member of 'Dad's Army', otherwise known as the Home Guard which protected coastal areas and important places such as munitions factories and airfields.

He lived in Southend on Sea in Essex until he died in July 1983. 

Fuelled by a desire to find out more about his father's role in the war, David asked a historian to find out what he could.

"I found out he joined up towards the end of 1915 when he was 18. I strongly suspect, although I don't have the evidence, that he joined up later because he was a railwayman and they were trying to keep railwaymen back on the jobs which were essential."

David moved from the south east of England to work in the City of London. When his company relocated to Bristol in 1974, David followed and settled in Downend.

He is married to Gaynor and the couple have two daughters and four grandchildren.

David became one of the 10,000 people chosen to take part in the People's Procession, also known as A Nation's Thank You, on November 11 after hearing about it on the BBC's The One Show.

"They said there would be a ballot for people to take part. I thought 'Well, you've got to be in it to win it' so I applied online and, lo and behold, I was one of the successful ones."

David had to be in London by 10am but the march didn't take place until 1pm.

"There was a lot of standing around but the actual march was only 10 minutes long. We started off at the Mall, walked through Admiralty Arch and turned right down Whitehall past the Cenotaph. We then turned right again past Birdcage Walk where we finished.

"What did surprise me was the astonishing number of young volunteers there who were helping, working as marshals and collecting wreaths. It has restored my faith in youngsters.

"A particularly moving time was at 11 o'clock when we stopped for the two minute silence. I thought about everyone who lost their lives and about my dad and what he went through. Although there were 10,000 of us in the People's Parade, you could have heard a pin drop. It was a very sobering experience and a real privilege to be there."

David, who carried his father's two medals with him, was given an Armistice 2018 red and white lapel badge as a souvenir of the historic occasion.