‘Scene After the Battle’ – why we cannot let the 11/11/2018 be the end of the story…

British dead from the 62nd (West Riding) Division left behind in the German trenches after one of the failed attacks at The Battle of Arras. Courtesy of Paul Reed at www.greatwarphotos.comMy book, Shell Shocked Britain, was published by Pen and Sword Books four years ago, but it was always about the legacy of the Great War, rather than a history of the war itself. I have been talking to groups recently, and to journalists, about how we continue to highlight how, for many, the war did not end in 1918. For thousands, it continued until their life was over. It affected their families and friends, their children and their grandchildren and is, I believe, one of the reasons why the First World War retains its emotional hold on us now. We are all, still, children of the Great War.

The trauma experienced by individuals and the country as a whole left a deep wound that has not yet healed, as in the 21st century we are reminded by the horrors of war in Syria, for example, and still struggle to ensure those affected, including those leaving the armed forces, have the support they need to leave conflict behind and live without fear, guilt and continuing psychological damage.

Despite the misgivings I have about marking this day as the end of the war, it is still a momentous occasion. It offers a focus and the proper recognition of the lives lost, and damaged, by all wars over the past century and gives us the opportunity to think about how our own lives have been affected. Parents, Grandparents, Great Grandparents and on through the generations – family histories have been shaped by conflicts.

For many, poetry is a way into the horrors of the war. We cannot possibly imagine what it was like to be in a trench, on the frontline, being bombarded by shellfire or knowing snipers were ready to shoot you dead the moment your head was raised above the parapet. Neither do we have any real idea of the terrible strain of the silences, the endless waiting for action, or for death. I have written about Wilfred Owen’s ‘Mental Cases’ and ‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’ on here before, both powerfully evoking the senselessness of war. But today I want to share another poem, this time by Christopher Grogan, who writes in the 21st century of 21st-century concerns – both personal and global. In Scene After the Battle, the personal can be interpreted as global – we are in a time of chaos, of uncertainty and of a sense that humanity must be saved, or perish.

Scene after the Battle 

The cavalry never came.
For days that felt like months

I lay in the sodden mud of the field,
scanning through bloodied eyes

the blue-grey horizon, longing to see,
rising up from the ridge of the hills,

the creeping silhouettes of men and horses
against the sallow canvas of winter dusk,

carrying hopes of a game-changing charge
that would scatter the enemy, scythe him down.

But over the field now, only the wind blows
softly, collecting for trophies the final sighs of the slain.

Christopher Grogan

On this memorable 11th November, we must ensure that we do not turn our backs on those still waiting for a game-changing charge, for something to scatter the demons.

100 years on it feels as if the world is once more on the brink. We must work to ensure that humanity can once more step back from division and hostility. We must be our own cavalry.

Shell Shocked Britain is available from all good bookshops and online retailers and is currently on special offer from publishers Pen and Sword Books at £13.00. See https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Shell-Shocked-Britain-Hardback/p/6103. 

 

 

 

For Remembrance & the Armistice: Some very personal messages……

labelsHave you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget’ –(Siegfried Sassoon)

At the launch of my book Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health  on the 22nd October 2014, I offered people the opportunity to take a red luggage label, a pen and write a simple message on it, tying it to the life-sized white wooden tree installations in the event space at Foyles in Bristol. I waffled on a bit about saying something about the evening, about the book, about the nibbles etc, but I also suggested people might want to offer up the names of someone they hold in their heart, as an informal act of remembrance.

I have to say, when I looked through them after the event, I was really moved at the names and comments people had taken the time to note down. So for Remembrance Sunday, for Armistice Day and for posterity I thought I would note some of them here on my blog, and say a huge thank you to everyone who made the event such a special evening for me.

In loving memory of my dear father George who died aged 83. He was an officer in the Royal Engineers and served in the Korean War. Love you always Dad

To the past, the present and for a better future with more understanding and available help x

A cliché but Never Forget

Thinking of my Italian ancestors who fought for Italy in WWI

To Grandpa, who couldn’t bear dirt or to be dirty after the trenches…

John Cant grandfather survived died 1970. Wilfred Carr Great Uncle. Died of wounds December 1917 near Ypres.

For Herbert My grandfather who never spoke of his experiences and I was too frightened of him to ask, hoping for exciting stories no doubt. Now, when it is too late I respect his silence and regret I never got close to him

Remembering Ronald Robertson RIP

To all conscientious objectors from The Society of Friends

Remembering all those women who served abroad In memory of all the conscientious objectors

In memory of my dear and beautiful friend Susan – I will carry you in my heart to every launch, event, exhibition and special place…xx

I also had some lovely congratulatory messages, but I am so pleased that the launch and my book offered people the space simply to remember. We have so little time to think now that we are in danger of losing sight of our essential humanity and connections to each other, and to those people in our lives who have made us who we are.

On the 11th hour – Wilfred Owen & a most moving poetic parable

The 11th of November, and Remembrance Sunday were days my father held above most others. Some of my earliest memories involve standing to attention by the black & white television in the back room as  Big Ben chimed, the guns went off to mark the end of the minutes silence and the Queen stepped forward to place her poppy wreath. I remember lots of sad, old faces; berets, medals and inevitably, wheelchairs.

I have very mixed feelings about war and the waste of young lives it inevitably involves. I admire our armed forces and still keep Remembrance Sunday as a mark of respect for my father and all it meant to him.

However, I feel that despite all the horrors of the wars of the 20th century politicians have learnt nothing. Young men and women are still sent into war zones about which we know very little for causes we hardly understand. My daughter’s 17 year old friends are talking about the army as an alternative to university and unemployment, but seem to assume combat is an extension of a Playstation or X Box game. It is hard to listen to.

So today, I reserve a place on my blog for a poem that has always been one which has moved me more than any other as a ‘commandment’ to us to think long and hard before once more sending our troops into situations where they die with honour; heroic in defence of their comrades and their units. But for a wider good? Who is entitled to make that decision?

Inspired by a parable in the Book of Genesis , in this poem, Wilfred Owen acknowledges God’s mercy in a way he rarely does in his work; but he leaves man to take the final decision. And it is the wrong one.

The Parable of the Old Man & the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen – written 1918

God rest their souls.