Just before I started this Blog I tested positive for Covid-19 three weeks ago, I want to thank everyone for their messages of support in what has been a very difficult and worrying time, It has been a very unpleasant few weeks but I am slowly and thankfully on the mend. Thinking of everyone who has been afflicted with this scourge and remembering those who sadly lost their own individual battle.
This Remembrance Sunday will be very different from the others that I have experienced in my lifetime. In this new period of lockdown, I have spent the last week trying to find a solution of how to deal with the fact that I will not be able to stand at 11am on Sunday near to the War Memorial which stands so proud and remember the great sacrifice that my fellow countrymen made for the maintenance of peace. I have felt this year that although that circumstances have prevented me from going over to France and Belgium, that I have let them down by not going to see them or walk on the fields where so many made that sacrifice. They are with me all the time, ghosts in infinity where I hope they in the presence of the almighty are rewarded. It will still be as solemn and as vitally important as it has been in the years before. It is time once again to put aside differences and remember those who fought to keep us who we are and won bitterly the prize of peace.
I hope that at some point next year I can once again make that pilgrimage. Due to the travel restrictions people like me have looked for an answer to fill the gaping hole that lockdown has brought. Virtual Battlefield tours online have become a new and upcoming solution to the problem, many people have embraced this concept with open arms. It fills their particular void of wanting to be there. I see it however in a more negative light, I think the whole idea, added to the fact that you actually have to pay for the privilege is absolutely abhorrent. I think it is dangerous and corrupts the very thing that needs to be protected and kept sacred, the spiritual and the emotional connection that we get when we are actually there. Virtual tours cannot replace under any circumstances the emotion and acceptance of being in actual locations where so much was given.
I am of a conservative view in that a Google Map virtual tour, although helpful for people who cannot get to Europe at this particular time and are desperate in their pursuit to fill their void, cannot replace actually being on the ground and getting a feeling, a connection of the surrounding area. It takes the whole emotion and passion completely out of it. I know the implications of what I’m saying and im probably going to get a bit of flak on social media for my views, frankly I simply do not care. Many people believe that we have to move forward the concept of the Great War to a more progressive modern setting. I disagree wholeheartedly, we need to keep some of those elements with us order to preserve their memory. Their sacrifice is most importantly above all our inheritance to preserve.
I still find it hard to believe that two years ago, I was stood at Ypres Ramparts Cemetery at 11am on Armistice Day 2018, the centenary of the end of the Great War. How times have changed. Standing alongside the fallen as a humble pilgrim who had completed a journey of his own self discovery. A piper played a lament over the water’s edge and the church bells of Ypres once silenced by incessant shellfire a century before danced in their victorious but mournful lament that rang over the Ypres Salient. It is a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The Centenary was over but the message was the same, it still is and most importantly has to be maintained.
This year, very early on Sunday morning as the sun rises, I will take the slow walk to the Town Hall War Memorial and lay down three poppy crosses, one cross is dedicated to two men, Private Robert Wilson of the 8th Battalion Border Regiment, who was killed on the 22nd October 1916 at the Battle of the Ancre. The other man is Second Lieutenant John Morgan Blake of the First Battalion Devonshire Regiment who was killed attacking the Polderhoek Chateau north east of Ypres on the 4th October 1917, he was one of seven officers of that regiment killed that day.
The unending tragedy of the Great War is that these two men have no known grave, no place of rest, Robert is etched on the Imperial Arch at Thiepval, one of the many Missing of the Somme. John is etched at the Tyne Cot memorial overlooking the Salient where he and so many gave his life in the once man made area of hell on earth. But I will remember them with humility, with thanks and pray for the repose of their souls. For all of Them.
The second poppy cross will be in honour of Corporal Archie McArthur Rennie of the Third Reconnaissance Regiment, who was killed after he landed on Sword Beach on D-Day on 6th June 1944, he rests peacefully at Hermanville Military Cemetery in Normandy amongst his comrades. Their is a slight discrepancy on his grave stone, it is said he was killed on the 7th June 1944, when one of his closest friends witnessed him getting shot and killed on the 6th. I hope that very soon that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission clears this discrepancy.
The Third cross is for the men of the Great War battlefields that are slowly being allowed to fade away with the process of time. The soldiers of Verdun, the soldiers of the St Mihiel Salient, and the brave soldiers of the Chemin de Dames, they are entitled also to be remembered for their own sacrifices, their bravery, their unending devotion to duty. On Sunday I will be thinking of the Ossuary at Douaumont, the Forts of Vaux and Souville, the abandoned church at Chivy, the memorial church at Marbotte to the men who died in the forests of Apremont above it. I will close my eyes and think of the rolling valleys of the Aisne, the Bois de Caures and the immortal General Driant. I will think of the Meuse, Mort Homme, Cote 304, the mine cratered village of Vauquois. Courage!!! On Les Aura!!!!
Eternal rest grant onto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them, may they rest in peace, and may all the souls of the departed through the loving mercy of God our Father rest in peace.