Allan Mayer’s Weblog


Posted on: November 13, 2008




On Tuesday 11th November we commemorated the 90th anniversary of the end of the first world war and remembered those who had died in the conflicts of the 20th and twenty-first centuries.


At eleven o’clock I took part in the two minutes silence in perhaps the most unusual and most tranquil place I had ever observed it- on a canal barge.


For several years I have been part of a team accompanying several people with profound disabilities on a barge trip. The barge, the ‘Rose of Parbold’ is adapted for easy access and has huge windows so that no matter what the weather you get a beautiful view of the English countryside moving past you at two miles an hour.


I was pleased when the skipper told us of the intention to take part in the act of remembrance, as I believe it to be important on many levels. The older I get, the more I realise just how short a time it was between the end of the second world war in 1945 and my birth in 1961. If people hadn’t given their lives we would have grown up as nazis. If you have trouble imagining what a world would look like had Hitler succeeded, have a look at Robert Harris’ ‘Fatherland.’


I have never known anyone who was killed in a war. My great uncle, Harry Bolton, died in the first world war. The family still have a photograph and the certificate which was sent out with the king’s stamp. Thanks to the War Memorials website I was recently able to find out where he was buried in France. I never knew him, but thought about him this year. And the thoughts were mixed, as were those about more recent conflicts. Somewhere in the mix, stirred in with the exclamations of gratitude and  honour, there  are uncomfortable question marks about  futility and waste and the necessity of involvement.


And this leads me to someone else I always think of on November 11th


Twenty years ago I was working in a team which was resettling people with learning disabilities from a Victorian ‘Mental Handicap’ hospital into a home in the community. ‘Care in the Community’ has come to have some negative connotations, but we must never forget the horrendously dehumanising alternatives of the past.


One our senior staff members was a brilliant and inspirational young man called David Heffer. David had been a Mental Handicap Nurse, so understood his territory. He was one of the staunchest advocates for people with learning disabilities that I have ever met. He made peoples’ lives better, and my book ‘Tasting the Wind’ is dedicated to him.

            The last time I saw David he was selling his belongings to fund a trip to India. He was like that. A free spirit.

            About five years later, October, 1992, I was chatting to my wife when a name jumped out at me from the ten o’clock news. The IRA had bombed a pub in Covent Garden and one man had died: David Heffer.

             The following day I bought so many papers, trying to find out if it was the David I had known. The montage of information formed a clear pattern: It was a David Heffer who had been a nurse and had travelled in India. He had called in at the pub on an errand.

              I won’t dignify the people who planted the bomb by suggesting that they were in any way soldiers fighting a war. But they took the life of someone who was capable of heroic acts for other people, so every November 11th I remember David Heffer.






4 Responses to "Remembrance"

I am David Heffer’s Mum and I’ve just been told about your book Tasting the Wind. His Father Brian is at my house and we have just ordered a copy on line. We always knew he was amazing but it’s good to know other thought so too. I would love to be able to speak with you – I don’t know my way round computers that well but I hope this reaches you.

Dear Lezley and Brian,

I knew of your and Paula’s terrible loss but had no way of contacting you. Today I thought of David and started doing some research on line and came across all of these wonderful tributes to him. What a special Man he must have been. I am so very, very, sorry. Lisa and I have many lovely memories of growing up with David and Paula, he was always a lovely, caring person and fun to be around playing at Sedbury Close. As an adult, he must have touched, and changed for the better, so many peoples lives.

I am now living in America, married with two lovely grown children, Ryan, 22 and Erin, 18.

My love and thoughts to all of you. Please give my Best Wishes to Paula.

Karen Untalan – formerly Joyner

Dear Karen
What a surprise after all these years! Your Mum and Lisa visited me when I returned to Luton about 15 years ago. They told me of the death of your Dad and that you were living somewhere down south. It was lovely to hear from you, Paula is on holiday in Cuba at the moment but I will tell her as soon as she returns. I hope your Mum, Lisa and Ian are all well and I would love to hear from them sometime. I hope you are happy Karen and enjoying your life in the US.
Take care and God Bless.
Love Lesley

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