Roger Waters sends poem to vet who located spot father was felled in war
Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd bassist and song writer, has sent a poem to the British army veteran who located the exact spot where the musician’s father was killed in action in Italy during the Second World War
Harry Shindler used British intelligence reports and military maps last month to identify the place where the guitarist’s father, Lieutenant Eric Waters, died in the aftermath of the Allied landings at Anzio, south of Rome.
Roger Waters contacted him and sent him a poem entitled “One River”, along with a letter which he signed “To Harry, with gratitude”.
The rock star was just five months old when his father died at the age of 31 during intense fighting between Allied and German forces in February 1944.
The poem alludes to the acute sense of loss he felt and the pain of never having known his father, who was serving with Z Company of the 8th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.
“When the wind sighs through the crop and good men fall, And children soft in their mothers' arms cringe, unbelieving, from the desperadoes' casual blade, My father, distant now but live and warm and strong, in uniform tobacco haze, Speaks out 'My son',” the poem begins.
“He says, Stay not the passion of your loss, But rather keen and hone its edge, That you may never turn away, Numb, brute, from bets too difficult to hedge.”
Mr Shindler, 93, who served at Anzio and is now head of the Italy Star Association of veterans, said he was deeply touched by the poem.
“It’s very moving indeed,” he told The Telegraph. “I think Roger was grateful that I went to all this trouble to find where his father was killed. I see my job as to make sure that nobody forgets all the lads who died down there and what happened after the landings. I came through it, fortunately, but many didn’t.”
Mr Shindler used War Office records at the National Archives in Kew and military maps to find the location of Lt Waters’ death - a fox hole a few miles inland from the sea, on the outer perimeter of the Allied bridgehead.
“It’s in a field surrounded by ditches, near a stream. It’s a pretty damp place and it was even worse in February 1944 – the weather was awful, we had a shocking winter and it was very muddy,” he said.
Roger Waters is expected to travel to Italy in February to mark the 70th anniversary of his father’s death.
“We’re expecting him to come on Feb 18 to unveil a monument to his father,” Mr Shindler said. “The town of Anzio wants to give him honorary citizenship.”
Lt Waters’ body was never recovered but his name is commemorated at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at nearby Monte Cassino, also the scene of intense fighting.
Mr Shindler is negotiating with local authorities in the town of Aprilia, near Anzio, to erect a plaque to commemorate not only Lt Waters, but all the Allied soldiers whose remains were never retrieved from the battlefield.
The 70th anniversary of the start of the Anzio landings, which were codenamed Operation Shingle, falls on Jan 22 next year and is expected to be attended by veterans and dignitaries from Britain, Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand and Canada, and the United States.
The Allies suffered around 40,000 casualties in the battle of Anzio, which eventually led to the liberation of Rome.
The British intelligence summary found by Mr Shindler revealed that on the night of Feb 17, 1944, Lt Waters’ company came under sustained assault from a German counter-attack involving tanks and infantry.
By the morning of the next day, Feb 18, the situation was desperate, the unit was eventually surrounded and Lt Waters was killed.
Mr Shindler, who lives in Italy, heard of the story after Roger Waters visited Monte Cassino, south-east of Rome, in March this year in a tribute to his father.
The death of his father inspired several of the songs that Waters, 70, wrote for Pink Floyd, in particular When The Tigers Broke Free, which also appeared in the film The Wall.
He once said the loss of his father had left him very angry.
“It took me years to come to terms with it. Because he was missing in action, presumed killed, until quite recently I expected him to come home.”
Roger Waters, who wrote the poem in the 1990s during the Balkan conflict, said Mr Shindler's discovery had been "an extraordinary turn of events".
He told the Telegraph that he had spoken to the veteran on the phone a number of times now and was looking forward to meeting him in Italy in February for the anniversary of the battle in which his father died. He planned to take Mr Shindler out for a drink.
"Harry is such a remarkable man," he said. "This isn't a one-off for him.
"He has been doing it for years and years.
"He's made it his life's work to find out what happened to men who served."
While knowing where his father died could not provide closure, it had offered him "the opportunity to connect with a lovely man like Harry Shindler," he said.