Present: Rain obscured my vision as I edged my journey onward. It was only the occasional glimpses of blue sky and the hint of a rainbow that kept me on the road to my destination. I listened to the daily service as they, too, sought to understand and know how best to remember. The red of the newly purchased poppy acted as a beacon against the gathering raindrops, it was the “wound of time”.
Past: “I honestly wish I could believe that things will end perfectly with one big bright happy ending. But these last few days have taught me that life isn’t made up of shiny moments. Life is hard; it’s gritty. One day you are filled with joy and the next, you are crawling through the muddy trenches with no inkling of when you might be able to climb your way back up again. ~Willow Mosby (Exposing ELE)”
Present: I approach the beach where flags, billowing in the breeze, signpost the relevance and importance of this day. People are already gathered and working together in a ritual of life and death. Stencils borne like stretchers are placed in line along the sand. Each one regimented in order, “brave as belief” becoming “death’s birthing place.”
flags billowing in the breeze
people gathered and working together
stencils borne as stretchers
regimented in order
Past: All the men in the picture are bound, trying to keep themselves together. That is how considerate they are, for the love of God and country and women and the other men–for the love of all that is good and true–they keep themselves together because they have to. They are afraid but they are not cowards.”
― 13, rue Thérèse
Present: I turn towards the sea, drawn by the sunlight now turning the dark depths into captivating motion. The horizon beckons, but the waves whisper the secrets, “But how could you know, brave as belief as you boarded the boats, singing?”
The horizon beckons, but the waves whisper the secrets
Past: There was an old woman in the farmhouse there and she was looking at us and she spoke in English and she said to the Sergeant-Major, ‘What have you got there?’ He said, ‘Men, soldiers come to fight for their country.’ She said, ‘No them’s pickaninnies, they should get home with their mother.’ He said, ‘They got to fight.’ She said, ‘Ah! It’s not right’. Private H.J. Haynes, Royal Warwickshire Regmt.
“The last resting-place of the soldier” is our act of Remembrance
Past: “In the newspapers you read: “Peacefully they rest on the spot where they have bled and suffered, while the guns roar over their graves, taking vengeance for their heroic death”. And it doesn’t occur to anybody that the enemy is also firing; that the shells plunge into the hero’s grave; that his bones are mingled with the filth which they scatter to the four winds – and that, after a few weeks, the morass closes over the last resting-place of the soldier. ” Kanonier Gerhard Gürtler, 111 Bavarian Corps, Artillerie
Present: From the closeness of the ‘graves’ I needed to see the bigger picture, to be given the futility, discomfort and disquiet of it all. To see the widows grieving a husband, a mother mourning the loss of a young life, children searching for the father they hardly knew and the grandchildren wanting to know more of grandparents they knew only in name. I wanted answers for the “what happened next”.
I needed the ‘bigger picture’.
Past: “I am just writing you a short note which you will receive only if anything has happened to me during the next few days.
I am absolutely certain that I shall get through all right, but in case the unexpected does happen I shall rest content with the knowledge that I have done my duty – and one can’t do more. Goodbye and with the best of love to all.”
Written by Percy Boswell, the night before his death at the Battle of the Somme 1916
Present: Service of Remembrance
At 10:15 a.m. already many had gathered at the cenotaph to add their respects to those fallen. Already many heads were bowed, silent tears shed and words spoken in respect. Then, heads were lifted as the first drums of the procession were heard; the regimental display adding not only dignity but a touch of familiarity and British wholesomeness. It deemed right and correct that they should march past, take their places and stand to attention, followed by the younger generation of scouts and guides. Big Ben chimed the hour, silence descended, a silence that even birds and dogs in attendance respected. A silence filled with memories, prayer and a unity that no-one invented but which comes from the spirit of mankind. The wreaths which were laid during the roll call of names became our memories offered in thanksgiving and prayer and raw emotions were tendered then ministered to as the service called on God to bless us, pardon our mistakes and give us the hope of the future. A future we promised to preserve in the words of the National Anthem ringing out. We were not just a small community in a small seaside town in East Anglia; we are a country, a United Kingdom, a Commonwealth and this day brings us together across the world.
Present: Padre Tim Cole. “The thought of what WW1 soldiers did bears heavily upon us today as we seek to serve in our own time.”
Present: By now the tide had already started to wash away the “front line” of our beach soldiers. The names of those who served written on shells, drifted away from us, but the memories are forever present. “We just have to look forward and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” One voice sounded out bravely, and the touch on the shoulder with a smile strengthened my belief in the spirit of humanity and the hope of a better future.
The tide washed away the front line
Names written on shells
Drifted away from us
Present: ” History might as well be water, chastising the shore;
for we learn nothing from your endless sacrifice.
your faces drowning in the pages of the sea.” Carol Ann Duffy 2018
Which outlook do you prefer?