The approach of Remembrance Sunday brings with it thoughts about the young men from our church who went off to die in France and Belgium. There was no conscription here, no compulsion to go and become part of the bloody slaughter of the Western Front. What took working men from our village to die on a Saturday morning on the Somme?
A forces padre gave me an insight into what might have taken them. Caring for men on the front line, he asked me, “Do you know what they will die for?”
“They will not die for Queen and country. They will not die for the Government or democracy, whatever that means. What they will die for is their mates”.
For the first time I understood the lines of David Craig, a character in Frank McGuinness’s “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme“,
“You said you wanted to die. I know what you mean. I didn’t want to die, but I know what you mean. I wanted war. I wanted a fight. I felt I was born for it, and it alone. I felt that because I wanted to save somebody else in war, but that somebody else was myself. I wanted to change what I am. Instead I saved you, because of what I am. I want you to live, and I know some one of us is going to die. I think it’s me. Sometimes I look at myself and I see a horse. There are hounds about me, and I’m following them to death. I’m a dying breed, boy. I can’t talk in your riddles. I used to worry even up till today, when you talked to me like that, in case you were setting me up. I don’t worry any more. It was yourself you were talking to. But when you talk to me, you see me. Eyes, hands. Not carving. Just seeing. And I didn’t save you that day. I saw you. And from what I saw I knew I’m not like you. I am you”.
The young men on our memorial, did they die for a cause? Or did they die for their mates?