“And we in faith, keep that peace for which they paid”
On Friday afternoon, around 2.40 pm at Barnsley train station I will restart on a journey that failed and finished as a 18 year old. I’m travelling to Wolverhampton University to begin my Masters Degree in Britain and the First World War, in an attempt to change and rewrite my own personal destiny, to achieve and succeed in a subject that I have incredibly passionate about. In a a way I see this as my last shot at the title of my life as a whole. It is rather fitting that 101 years ago this weekend that my Great Uncle Martin Joseph Moffat won his his Victoria Cross in the fields of Flanders, the last Irishman to receive that citation in the conflict. Born in Sligo Eire, Martin first fought alongside my Great Grandfather in the Connaught Rangers at the Somme and in the Battle Of Messines in June 1917, he then was transferred into the Leinster Regiment for the remainder of the war. With unending gratitude to one of my friends I had the particular joy of seeing his VC at the Imperial War Museum in London last year, close to the centenary of his citation.
As previously documented my love of the Great War began as a 10 year old at Primary School, fascinated by the famous picture of victorious Allied soldiers at the bridge of Riqueval. The bridge was crossed in late September 1918 in the Hindenburg Line breakthrough north of the town of St Quentin. But it was further influenced by watching Professor Richard Holmes’s BBC series War Walks back in 1996, a dark time as I lost my beloved Grandfather in June of that year, and he introduced me to the Western Front. As Laurence Olivier introduced the Second World War through the acclaimed documentary series The World At War back in the 1970’s. Professor Holmes through 2 episodes, Mons and the Somme sent me on my journey of discovery, I found it intoxicating and mesmerising. Then in Christmas 1996, my Grandmother bought me a book about the 13th and 14th York and Lancaster Regiment. The Barnsley Pals, written by Jon Cooksey. My Christmas revolved around looking at that book, I had to get another copy many years later as i wore the book out with constant reading. The journey had taken it’s first steps.
I never studied the Great War at Primary or Secondary school, I must also admit that it was a tragedy to discover on the History paper of my GCSE exam a Great War question. I had the misfortune of looking at Medicine through time, a topic that I really didn’t particularly enjoy. But the fundamental issue above all is was that I was lazy, I was more interested in playing football, and much to my regret I took things for granted, I expected things to happen, I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t revise or prepare properly and as one particular teacher once wrote in my report, “He is so laid back he is in danger of falling over”. How those words have tortured me through the years. Then my Journey went dormant, stagnated. I went into work full time and simply breezed through my 20’s without paying much attention to my inner calling. Armistice days and Remembrance Sunday’s kept the flame slowly burning deep in my heart. I lit a candle on the Centenary of the beginning of the Great War in August 2014. It wasn’t until June 2016, just before the Centenary of the Somme battle that I finally saw with my own eyes and walked the hallowed ground of Picardy with my own feet. And by the grace of the Almighty, the flame was re lit, and it started to burn more fierce than ever before.
It is incredible how the littlest things have such a incredible impact on one’s future, and yet some people believe in fate, I hope in two years time that I will have repaid the faith that people have shown in me, there have been times in my young life where I squandered that potential, it is finally time to fly.