Heading for the Front

Aug 1st, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

A trip to Taunton enabled the discovery of the book needed for next Wednesday, a guide to the Western Front that included the Somme.

A moment of anger flared at a comment made,”Why would you want to bother with those old battlefields and cemeteries?”


Because those who died were not anonymous; they were not casualty statistics; they were not just names in stone; they were real people; they were our people.

They were the men whose names will look down from the wall when I go to the early Holy Communion service at High Ham church tomorrow.  They were the men who went from Ballybrack, men who sat in the pews of Saint Matthias’ church; one, a man who even carved his name in the pews of Saint Matthias’ church.

More personally, they were members of families who still respect their memory.  There is my friend Cecil’s Uncle Jason, whose grave went unvisited for decades because travel was expensive and because de Valera’s Ireland frowned upon such commemoration. Church members will recount tales of having stones thrown at them when they wore their poppies to church on Armistice Sunday.

Respect is due to those who fell, and to those who served, many of whom never entirely recovered from their experiences.  I had an old uncle who died in 1971. He had been born in 1900, was married in 1916, and became a German prisoner of war that year. He was to return home in 1919, having been assumed to be dead. A teenage boy, he walked back through the chaos of post-war Europe, from the coalmines where he had been working as forced labour. He had no papers and rags tied round his feet served as shoes.  Isn’t he worthy of respect?

It’s not about old battlefields and cemeteries, it’s about a past that is part of our present; it’s about remembering so as not to forget.

Leave a comment »

  1. Ian, do you go near Arras? My father-in-Law was there in WW1. He returned home to Durham and married his sweetheart in 1918 at the tender age of 21.

  2. We will be near Arras, I think, when we stay at Peronne to visit Thiepval.

    I was at my Uncle Jack’s grave this evening, he and my Aunt Augusta were both born in 1900 and married when they were both sixteen

Leave Comment