This afternoon, as I peeled and cut windfall apples to cook up for a pie, I thought how, on a summer's day, just like this one, a century ago, our ancestors went about their work pretty much as we are all doing today. The young Swallows would have been skimming around in groups of 20 or more, practising their flying skills just as they are today. The harvest would have been ripening, the hay would have been in stooks or carefully stacked and thatched, rowanberries turning orange on the trees and countrywomen would have been trying to make 6d do the work of a shilling, just as they have always done - and still do - whilst their menfolk laboured in the fields.
Down on Dartmoor my female relatives might have been amongst the tors gathering whortleberries for pies or to be sold at local markets at 6d or 7d a quart. Staggering home with huge baskets full, their thoughts would doubtless have been more on events close to hand than those unfolding in a foreign country they had scarcely heard of.
I wonder how long it took for news of war to percolate to the more outlying farms? I wonder if folk realized the impact it would have on their lives, and that by the end of four years, scarcely a household in the country would remain unaffected by lives lost - fathers, sons, brothers, cousins.
I thought today of the excitement the young men had felt at the idea of fighting for their country - those country lads especially thinking that at last they had a chance to get away from their humdrum life and have the chance to have a dependable regular wage coming in instead of every chance of being laid off because business was slow or the farmer could get a younger boy cheaper to do their work. To escape their cramped living conditions and monotonous diet and to be the envy of their friends. After all, it would all be over before Christmas. It strikes me that they were full of such innocence. They truly believed what their leaders told them. Only the old sweats who had experienced war knew differently, but not even they could have dreamed of the carnage and futility and terror of trench warfare for years on end.
I hope that you will join me in lighting a candle of remembrance tonight and remember all those who fought, whether they returned or stayed, in the words of Rupert Brooke, who sadly fulfilled the prophecy of the poem he wrote in 1914:
THE SOLDIER BY RUPERT BROOKE
|IF I should die, think only this of me;|
|That there's some corner of a foreign field|
|That is for ever England. There shall be|
|In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;|
|A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,||5|
|Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,|
|A body of England's breathing English air,|
|Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.|
|And think, this heart, all evil shed away,|
|A pulse in the eternal mind, no less||10|
|Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;|
|Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;|
|And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,|
|In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.|
Many thanks to www.bartleby.com from whence I copied the words.
Spare a thought, especially, for those 54,000 men whose bodies were never recovered, but are remembered on the Menin Gate, like my husband's Great Uncle, George Brown Bird, left mortally wounded in a bomb crater which later received a direct hit from another bomb. Think too of those who were broken in body or in mind, yet returned home, and men whose mental breakdown was simply called Cowardice and punished as such by a firing squad at dawn. Forgiveness is a word to choke on . .