If you hadn’t guessed from the wall-mounted displays of cap badges, ribbons and medals, the fading photographs of men on parade, smoking in hospital beds or raising tin cups sitting on the sides of a tank, from the shelves filled with books on the Second World War to the cabinets ornamented with polished anti-tank shells, riding crops and the like – well, then, you’d probably still guess Mr Bradford was an old soldier by the way he sat in the chair, hands draped over his walking stick, feet planted shoulder width, back straight, his two bruised eyes glittering.
‘Tell me again who you are, please, and what you have come to do,’ he says.
Mr Bradford has been referred to us by the hospital. The story was that he’d gone to catch another elderly resident as she fell backwards in the garden, putting himself between her and some plant pots, the geriatric equivalent of taking a bullet. He was lucky not to break anything (‘…but then I always was quite lucky in that regard,’ he says). What the episode has highlighted, though, is Mr Bradford’s growing frailty. He’s been struggling to cope at home, too proud to ask for help, gradually drifting in terms of personal hygiene, nutrition and so on. The good news is there are lots of practical things we can do to help, and Mr Bradford is happy to accept.
‘You’ll appreciate this story, being a military man,’ I say to him, taking a pause and resting on my laptop.
‘Go on,’ he says. There’s a sudden chill in the room, as if he’d turned the angle-poise light into my face and slowly lit a cigarette.
‘Where I grew up, in Wisbech. Cambridgeshire. The Fens…’
‘I know where it is,’ he says.
‘Well…the guy who ran the local electrical repair shop – this very unassuming man, little round spectacles, bald head – used to fix the Hoovers and radios and whatnot…’
‘Ye-es,’ says Mr Bradford.
‘Well…his name was Mr Cox.’
‘Yes. Anyway, all these years we just knew him as Mr Cox, the guy who fixed your radio and where you could buy those little pifco torches, you know? The red square ones with the big slidey white switches…’
‘Tell me about Mr Cox,’ says Mr Bradford.
‘Well…turns out he was a war hero.’
‘A war hero?’
‘Yes. Have you heard of the Bruneval Raid? When a team of commandos went over to France to dismantle a radar station?’
‘I know what the Bruneval Raid is.’
‘Well…Mr Cox was the technician who went with them. To dismantle it. Even though it was packed full of Germans. I mean – it was quite a daring thing.’
‘Yes. The Bruneval Raid,’ says Mr Bradford, picking an invisible piece of lint from his threadbare trousers, dropping it off to the side, and then slowly directing his attention back to me. ‘The only operation successfully led by a parachute battalion, I believe.’