Since Eric died last week, he’s been at the front of my thoughts. I’ve been meaning to write about him and putting it off, because although I only came to know Eric relatively recently, I loved him.
His death shouldn’t have come as a shock because Eric was ill and increasingly frail, but still I can’t quite believe he’s gone; that we’ll never again see him sitting in the living room, leaning on his cane and hanging his hand out to pat whatever member of the pack was slinking by, or chipping into a conversation with a sly joke and knowing grin.
Eric and Thurza were the first members of Andrew’s family I ever met 10 years ago. It was my first trip to New Zealand as Andrew’s honorary girlfriend; we flew into Christchurch and stayed overnight with Eric and Thurza on the way to Te Anau.
They were impeccable hosts; more importantly, for me, they unconditionally welcomed and accepted me into the family. Thurza plied us with unbelievable quantities of food, and the following day we set off with a back seat full of the choicest picks from Eric’s garden (although regrettably not my underwear).
Over the course of the years, I heard of Eric’s wartime exploits second-hand. Eric himself rarely referred to it; I always got the impression that Eric would have chosen the thick of a battlefield over the centre of attention. It was only in the last few years that Eric talked about the war, but only if pressed with a bottle of vintage port.
It was almost impossible for me to reconcile the hero who surprised a German stronghold and captured 30 of the enemy accompanied by only three other members of his troop (“There was a bit of a fight”), with the unassuming self-effacing man I knew. In the normal course of life, most of us are never called to test the extreme boundaries of our courage. Perhaps without the awards bestowed on Eric by his country, I might never have suspected that side of him.
After Eric’s funeral however, Craig reminisced about his father and a more detailed picture came into focus; of a born soldier who loved the army but his family more, an extraordinary man who opted for an ordinary life, someone who had an absolute morality and stark sense of justice yet kept his instinct for fun close.
One of my favourite war stories involves how, towards the end, Eric captured an extremely young German soldier, who was distraught. Eric – no doubt little older than the boy – arrived back at camp leading him by the hand.
That humanity was always evident.
We will miss him.