3rd Battle of Ypres, World War I
No dignified committal for him, the undertaker
his coffin Flanders mud...
His mourners far away with no focus for their grief...
Ten years on stark honour comes...
His name is chiselled on the Menin Gate.
- Lines from the poem Reveille in Jenny Martin's 2014 book Aftermath
Richard Eaves, a joiner and undertaker, reported missing on 31st July 1917, the first day of the battle, was also the inspiration for the poem Last Post (see Poems). He left a wife and two infant children. His name (second column) is one of over fify-four thousand on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing.
Exercise Tiger, World War II
When Paul took this photo on our visit in 2000 to the beaches (In Our Fathers' Footsteps),we learned that it was one of four memorials to the missing in the Normandy landings.
What we'd heard nothing of was the loss off Slapton sands, Devon of over six hundred US soldiers in Exercise Tiger, a rehearsal for D-Day. Their landing crafts were torpedoed at 2 am on 28th April 1944. They had not been warned of E-boats in the area, caused by human error, and survivors were threatened with court martial if they ever spoke of it.
For decades, families of the missing had no focus for their grief until the truth came out - literally - thanks to a determined local hotelier, the late Ken Small. He paid the US government 50 dollars for a Sherman tank on the sea bed 60 feet down, and in 1984 managed to get it raised and placed on the shore as a memorial to the fallen and as a focus for their faraway families' grief.
One of the missing was 19-year-old Sergeant Louis Bolton, whose job after D-Day would have been to bury his fallen comrades' bodies. For him, their undertaker, no dignified committal, but stark honour came to them all when a memorial plaque was placed on the Sherman tank.
'We will remember them'
Sources Patrick Kidd, Rehearsal that was deadlier than D-Day. The Times, Monday, April 29 2019; Dean Small's website run in conjunction with the families: www.exercisetigermemorial.co.uk/ken-small
This is the working title of my next book about my cousin's late award winning police dog, Villain, which I have been writing on and off for far too long. Heavy persuasion from writing group leader, Nik, made me drop the lack of time excuse and just write something to get going again.
Service not self 'Beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity,
and all the virtues of man without his vices.'
This quote which begins the book is from John Hobhouse's 1808 epitaph to Boatswain, Lord Byron's dog, surely one of the best canine epitaphs ever, especially for a working dog. You sense from Villain's bearing and alert eyes, kept on Graham, his handler, his eagerness to be off on the next job and abandon the obligatory courtesies to even this dog-loving relative.
'O still small voice of calm' is the final line of a hymn which I first heard about sixty years ago at the funeral of our physics master, a Congregationalist. It begins: 'Dear Lord and Father of mankind/Forgive our foolish ways' and continues with six verses of pleading to 'Break through the earthquake, wind and fire' to show mankind how to lead lives of peace and service.
'The Brewing of Soma' Only days ago I was surprised to learn that W. Garret Horder had used the last six verses of Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier's lengthy poem for his 1884 Congregational hymn. The poem exposes the dangerous futility of anyone trying, by means such as alcohol, drugs, trances, orgies, etc, etc to achieve a 'higher' state of mind in which to hear the still, small voice: www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3620986/Sacred-mysteries.html
What is Soma? I have just spent too long on trying and failing to identify the active ingredient in the ancient plant-based Soma brew as, say, tetrahydro-dintitro-benzyl-something-or-other. Prosaic explanation: they don't seem to know, that's why. But I did find something else interesting.
The prophet Elijah (9th Century BC) Only days ago I was amazed to find that, at a troubled point in his reign when he had developed suicidal ideation, he heard a 'still, small voice' after 'earthquake, wind and fire' and he could then think and plan clearly (I Kings 19, 11-13). The passage has its basis, not in trying to find religion through ecstasy but through reason and morality based on monotheism (www.britannica.com/biography/Elijah-Hebrew-prophet).
'Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire
O still, small voice of calm.'
Orkney Chapel of Peace and Reconciliation On its 70th anniversary, May 2014, Pope Francis gave his blessing and a wish "that this chapel, built in time of war, may continue to be a sign of peace and reconciliation". Days later a door was kicked in by vandals. Months later three Stations of the Cross plaques were stolen. They have since been replaced by exact replicas with sophisticated security monitoring. (Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, 18 Aug 2014; Maggie Parham, Independent, 13 May 1999)
White Easter flower The one remaining flower in bloom in this clump in our garden, the others having shed their petals for this year and begun to form seeds.
I remember watching the film Chocolat, based on Joanne Harris's book of that name, on an overnight coach returning from a holiday in France. The priest began his Easter Day sermon with these words (as I remember them):
'I speak to you today, not of Christ's divinity, but of his humanity.'
Jewish medical physicist, Josef Rotblat, whose wife, Tola, died in a concentration camp, ended his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech years later with these words:
'Above all, remember your humanity.'
Domenica Chiochetti painted The Madonna and Child fresco behind the chapel altar from a postcard his mother gave him to take to the war. It was of Barabino's Madonna of the Olives, the infant Christ offering an olive branch of peace to his mother. (Maggie Parham's obituary of Chiochetti in the Independent, 13 May 1999: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-domenico-chiocchetti-1093227.html - accessed today)
Soldiers took postcards, teddy bears, all sorts of personal icons into the carnage of war - precious links to their mother, family, home and humanity. But there is no greater love than that of a soldier for his comrade. A WWII soldier got reluctant permission from his officer to go back to his comrade who'd been shot. As soon as he arrived, his comrade said: 'I knew you'd come,' and died.
Today's photo is of a red Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Rubra', a cultivar, in our garden. It is now dying down so the redness is less rich.
After going home to Italy, Domenico Chiochetti spent some years carving all 14 Stations of the Cross on mahogany plaques to hang on the chapel walls. Four of them are visible, not in detail, on our 2009 photo of the interior on yesterday's post. In 2014 three of the plaques were stolen, a loss described by John Muir, secretary of local group who care for the chapel, as 'devastating' (Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, 18 August 2014). Much other damage, vandalism, theft and sheer weight of numbers, has been caused by the many visitors to the chapel.
Paul's photo taken today, Good Friday, of purple Pasque (Easter) flowers in our garden bought from a nursery. It is hard to believe that such richly coloured flowers are native to the UK and mainland Europe growing on chalky grassland. It is sad that their survival today is in only five undisclosed UK locations, due to vandalism, theft and carelessness.
This snapshot showing the entrance to the Italianate Chapel made from 2 Nissen huts was taken in squally weather on our Orkney Islands holiday in autumn 2009. Begun in 1943, it was built by Italian prisoners of war brought into a camp to build eastern barriers to attacks on naval vessels in Scapa Flow.
Led by artist, Domenico Chiochetti, the interior is a tribute to the Italians' artistry, craftsmanship and ingenuity. It is reminiscent, though on a grander scale, of the trench art of WWI. They used a huge range of scrap material on the islands much of it donated by the islanders, transcending the barriers of creed and nationality and forging friendships with the islanders that would last throughout their lives. Paul remembers an Italian POW on a nearby farm making him a wooden whistle which sadly didn't survive his Northumbrian childhood.
The snapshot of the interior was taken by Paul. I am not the person standing in the sanctuary.
The photo taken this morning shows part of a thriving clump of white wood anemones, Anemone nemorosa, which grow in native woodland. A few years ago, I planted them in a shady part of our garden along with various ferns, there is one on the left, some of which were first found in the Lake District, to remind me of home.
This photo shows a few coloured cultivars, mauve and blue, while a couple of clumps of common primrose (top centre), which probably morphed from garden primulas, arrived unbidden and were made very welcome.
A garden is a war zone? It doesn't have to be. An attractive but thuggish plant had been threatening to rampage over their quiet beauty, and I had to get husband Paul, the gardener, to deal with it whilst muttering something about 'letting things get out of hand'. My tip for fellow non-gardeners: watch out for anything whose label states 'good ground cover even in dry shade'. But if you really like it, keep a close eye on it, maybe keep it there in a pot, then war won't break out.
93-year-old Len Johnson, Legion President until very recently, was among thirteen winners of civic awards for services to Macclesfield presented by the Mayor of Macclesfield, Adam Schofield (www.cheshire-live.co.uk/news/chester-cheshire-news/macclesfield-civic-awards-honour-those-16114853 )
I was honoured to be invited to the ceremony and see Len receive this award for his 25 years of Service Not Self to those in need of the Legion's help (see my post of 28 March).
The Poppy Appeal About half the funds come in during the 2 -3 weeks of Remembrancetide, a period of sustained frenetic activity for volunteers. The poppy collectors you see in the streets (I kept my 2018 badge above) are familiar but what goes on behind the scenes is amazing.
I have a memory of sitting on the office floor with a sandwich before going out again, other collectors squeezing past with full containers, Ron, the secretary, at a desk keeping expert track of everything. And to add to the bedlam - Len, the retired engineer, on his back like a car mechanic, fixing yet, yet, yet again the clanking old counting machine donated by the bank. Len only comes in once a week now, at other times fixing it by telephone. Amazing.
Thus we remember the dead by helping the living.
The Kindle edition of In Our Fathers' Footsteps, see books, now available at only 99p. Proceeds to the Royal British Legion, so the more people take a punt at it, the more the Legion can do for those affected by war. It is up on Amazon but not yet linked to the paperback on the same details page. Here are some images from the book because colour images especially are at their best on a computer screen.
What's in a name? If anyone is wondering why my father's family name, husband Paul's family name and my name are the same, it is because my maiden name and my married name are both Martin. That is because when we started medical school we ended up on the same dissecting table having been allocated our places in alphabetical order. It is (?was) not uncommon for medics to pair up thus although less common, I suppose, for them to share the same surname as well as the same dissecting table.
What's in another name? My website Favicon is meant to represent the Cumbrian Herdwick sheep, descended from the hardy sheep which the Vikings brought with them when they invaded Cumbria. Their colour scheme is contrary: they have black or brown wool and light coloured faces. Like the Cumbrians, they are stoical survivors in hard conditions, so I thought I would honour them by calling my own self-publishing 'house' Herdwick Books and use its icon for this website Favicon.
I liked the idea then of having go at the survival course of publishing one or two books myself on a shoestring using only a printer. I'm still here to tell the tale (Phew!) but, on the whole, I wouldn't recommend it. I learnt the very hard work way, luckily without any catastrophes, what the huge difference is between a printer and a publisher. And if I had to pick only one reason for using a publisher, I'd say it's the cover. That's what sells the book.
Thanks to a Legion member who put me in touch with Margaret Lowe of the Tytherington Family Worship (non-denominational) Church, Macclesfield, I gave a talk in February on In Our Fathers' Footsteps to members of the Ladies Group.
Some were old enough to share their own memories of World War II, poignant but inspiring for their stoicism and humanity. I took along with me copies, not only of In Our Fathers' Footsteps but also of Aftermath, its prequel, published 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War I. The short stories and poems in Aftermath are based on those whose stories are told in In Our Fathers' Footsteps. I found here, as before, that some people like to buy the books as a pair.
I left the meeting with a warm sense of peace and friendship and a glimmer of hope in this troubled world, and gratitude, on my behalf and that of those whom the Legion still serves, especially Margaret Lowe for organising and running the meeting.
Monument in St Nicholas Churchyard, Whitehaven, to the town's sons who lost their lives
It's almost two years since I published In Our Fathers' Footsteps (see under BOOKS). My latest book, One Dog and His Cop, about my cousin's police dog,was published 30 November this year (see under BOOKS).