“I gazed across at Albert; its tall trees were blue-grey outlines, and the broken tower of the basilica might have been a gigantic clump of foilage. Only the distant Gunfire disturbed the silence – like someone kicking footballs- a soft bumping, miles away. Low in the west, pale orange beams were streaming on the country that receded with a sort of regretful beauty, like the background of a masterpiece” Siegfried Sassoon
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, to Christians all over the world it is the beginning of Lent. The season of penitence and almsgiving in preparation of the celebration of the Holy Season of Eastertide. As a practising Catholic, which some of you know and some of you dont, it is a very important and special time for me, which i probably take too seriously. I usually give something up that i like or try and make a better effort in other areas. The picture above is the small attic Chapel of Talbot House. A very sacred place in the town of Poperinge which was a communications hub used by British soldiers en route to the Calvary of the Ypres Sailient. A place where Christ was worshipped by Officers and Soldiers alike, a place where many Soldiers recieved the Eucharist for the last time, many recieved their Last Rites, and said their Confessions. Many prayed that they would return for another interaction with their individual Faith. If only the Supporting wood beams of the Attic could talk.
I visited Talbot House in May 2017, just before the Centenary of the Battle of Messines and the agony of the Third Battle of Ypres, myself and my Father stepped into the spiritual unknown, we had never been in such a place of such emotion and peaceful tension, one must imagine the Soldiers individual agonies and thoughts. You could even compare them to Christs agony in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified. What must they have thought in this very room, the thought of Duty, Home, Family, Children.
I walked to the Lectern, and saw a old copy of the Bible of St James, the Scripture of the Church of England. As a practising Catholic, I did something that in my Faith would be frowned upon, but yet i felt it was an obligation to do so, to remember those Souls, who gave their lives so i could practice my Faith. I read a passage of the Bible with Father sat on one of the pews.
In the words of St John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
That was enough, it was enough to remember and say my own individual prayer in commendation to the Fallen. That passage is used by all denominations of the Christian Faith, as a Catholic it is used in the Day Mass liturgy on Christmas Day. I imagined the 4 Midnight Mass services said over the Course of 4 years, the distant gunfire of the Sailient as Mass was said and the Host was recieved. Ones imagination runs riot in such a place.
St Martins Cathedral is to me as a Christian the personification of the Resurrection, a place that alongside the Cloth Hall in Ypres was shelled to a pulp by a vengeful German Army over the course of 4 years. Some remnants of the original Cathedral still remain, after the War the interior of the church was faithfully reconstructed to its original form with a few added extras. The church tower bells ring for Mass at 5.30pm, this Tower which is now bigger than the Original one.
On Armistice Day 2018, I observed the 2 minutes Silence at Ramparts Cemetery, on the outskirts of the City. Amongst the Silence, the Church bells of St Martin’s echoed across the town, celebrating the Victory that came at such a grievous price, at the expense of my fellow countrymen. Their has never been a moment where I have felt such inner peace. It was a moment that i hold dear and sacred.
My preparations for next weeks trip to the Somme are pretty much complete, i will go into detail next week when i start packing my bags for my first trip of 2019. I cannot wait to go, to reset and to refocus with my friends.
And the Earth Abideth Forever