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“I have a confession to make, Grandfather.” I lean forward – earnest, shy. After all, I don’t know this man, although I am learning much about him. And he certainly doesn’t know me. How to manage this nascent relationship?

He looks at me. His eyebrows rise almost imperceptibly. I think he knows what I’m about to say. I’m unable to meet his gaze. I have to fill the silence, and start gabbling.

“I’ve been reading it – well, trying to!” I strangle a nervous laugh recalling that our previous conversation about his writing hadn’t ended well. “Your diary from 1916 – in your Army Message Book – preparations in Le Havre, the goat eating your door curtain – remember?! The nightingale? Going over the top on the First of July, being wounded. Your capture, for goodness’ sake! Then the hospital train, PoW camp at Gütersloh…  Your friends, Grandfather.”

He turns away with a sigh.

“I’m sorry. I really can’t simply leave it. It’s just – well, you held onto it for years, then dad kept it, too – along with the essays. They were always there ‘in the garage’ wherever we were living depending on where dad was posted to. I can’t ignore that. They’ve all been put away for decades, and – well, now I’ve read the essays, done some research – I understand so much more, I’m making sense of it. And of you, and dad, maybe. A little, anyway.”

He is silent. I so want his approval. I lay my hand on his shoulder, but he stays turned away. The rough wool of his jacket feels like barbed wire under my hand.

“Grandfather, the first essay I read – quite by accident, I just pulled it out of the jumbled pile – was ‘A Road’ which is the first essay to do with the War you wrote, and that wasn’t until 1922. I thought it was a most extraordinary piece of writing! You describe noticing the sunlit day and the trees and insects with lyrical beauty, and all while you’re under enemy bombardment and facing machine gun fire! You wrote it as a memorial to the ‘… thousands of brave men’ who used the ‘corduroy road’ of the title. Please understand, Grandfather. The reason I’m reading your diary is that I have that same impulse – I can’t just leave you in the darkness, and all the people you mention…” Shaking slightly, his slender, fly-tying fingers, so like dad’s, briefly touch my hand.

I think it’s the closest I shall ever be to having his blessing.

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“Honestly, your writing’s terrible!”

Grandfather looks up from the fly he’s tying – a March Brown, he told me as he settled at a table covered in small boxes of silks and feathers. “What are you reading, lass?”

“It’s this” I waggle his Army Field Message book in his direction. Army Book 153.

“I had been shot in the shoulder when I was captured.” he reminds me, exasperated.

I sigh. “I know, Grandfather, forgive me. It’s just… well, I really want to be able to read it”. He looks at me – carefully excluding from his glance the book in which he’d scribbled bits of his life in 1916 . “I’d like to find out more about your time in PoW camp.”

“Well, lass.” His hands fall from his work. “I came back. It should rest there.”

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Lendal Bridge - geograph.org.uk - 766795

Lendal Bridge – geograph.org.uk – 766795 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In and around York

In and around York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In these days people remember “Hawkins. J.” chiefly as a as a severe and stern judge feared by the “professional criminals” who came before him. But he was also a man of great experience of the world, and of very wide and human sympathies. And he had a real gift of quiet humour, though he was rightly careful not to exercise it too freely when upon the Bench.

As some of my readers may know, the bridge over the River Ouse at York called “Lendal Bridge” was an ancient Toll-Bridge, until it was freed from Toll a good many years ago.

It must be quite thirty years since at the “Judges’ Breakfast” at York, and with great enjoyment, Mr Justice Hawkins told this story of his adventure upon Lendal Bridge.

‘You have some strong and very determined men in this City of York, my Lord Mayor,’ said Mr Justice Hawkins with a twinkle in his eye,

‘I came across one last night in my walks abroad who was no great respecter of persons. A stout and hardy rogue, indeed, who in fact held me to ransom, very much in the fashion I fancy that would be the common usage towards strangers in this City some generations ago!

‘Oh yes! He knew who I was! That is to say, I told him; but it did not make much difference that I could see! Nothing serious, my Lord Mayor, nothing serious at all: merely a refreshing instance of a man knowing what he wanted: – and getting it!

‘I came out of the Club alone just after mid-night, and I thought that I would take a stroll before returning to my lodgings. It was a fine moon-light night and not at all cold, the street was deserted and my cigar was just at its best, as I decided to finish smoking it upon the bridge.

‘I crossed to the opposite pavement to have a look at the old Abbey and the Bridge Tower, and then paced slowly along the bridge, glancing from time to time at the moon’s reflection in the River.

‘Your ancient Guildhall has a noble frontage, my Lord Mayor, and when I was near the far end of the bridge, I re-crossed the road-way and returned along the pavement on that side to look at it. The Guildhall, with the old buildings alongside it clustering down to the River, reminds one of a part of Bruges, or of one of the old Cities of the Continent.

‘It was all very quiet and peaceful, and I stood in the middle of the bridge for some moments, enjoying the scene.

‘As I turned to move on I was confronted by a short thick-set man, heavily clothed, and buttoned up to the chin in a stout over-coat. This individual, who seemed to have sprung from no-where, completely barred my passage.

‘He stretched out his open palm and said in a rough hoarse voice:

Ah want a ’awp’n’y.”

‘I was startled by his sudden appearance and did not quite understand his speech, so I said: “What is it that you want?”

A ’awp’n’y” repeated the man decisively.

‘A light dawned on me and I said: “Oh, I see! You are asking me for a halfpenny. Why do you want a halfpenny?”

For bein’ on this ‘ere brig”

replied the man.

‘“I do not quite understand you.” said I “If you are in need of some money and will explain why you stop me in this extraordinary way, I will see what I can do for you. But I do not like my walk being interrupted in this fashion.” His reply:

Ah’s waitin’ fer that ’awp’n’y”

was not what I had expected, and did not make things any clearer.

‘My impression then was that this man was holding me up to ransom in some way for this ridiculous sum, for some mysterious purpose – he obviously did not mean to let me pass without paying it.

‘So I thought I had better tell him who I was. The place was quite deserted at that late hour; and, though roughly respectful in his manner he seemed very determined, and slightly truculent.

‘Drawing myself up, and directing a stern glance upon him, I said: “Sir, do you know who I am?”

Noa,” replied he “an’ it disn’t matter: Ah want a ’awp’n’y.”

‘“Sir,” said I “I am Mr Justice Hawkins, Her Majesty’s Senior Judge of Assize and Goal Delivery in this City of York, and I would have you to understand that in my official capacity in this City, I represent the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty!”

Vărry likely,” replied the man “but I want that ’awp’n’y.”

‘I suppose that nobody particularly likes being told that it does not matter who he is, so in my most severe judicial voice, I said: “Come, come, Sir! You must tell me exactly why you want a half-penny… then I will decide whether I will, or will not, give it to you – not otherwise.”

Nea-body walks on mā̈ brig wi’out paäying me a ’awp’n’y” replied he.

‘“Your bridge!” exclaimed I scornfully. “Since when has this old and public bridge become your property?”

It’s t’ Toäll-Brig,” said he impatiently. “T’ toäll’s a ’awp’n’y, an’ Ah collects it. You owt tĭ know that!”

‘“Oh! A toll-bridge! How interesting!” said I. Then, as an idea struck me, I continued “Her Majesty’s Justices of Assize represent the Crown and therefore do not pay any tolls. Besides, the toll is surely collected for crossing the bridge, and I have not crossed it.”

‘These seemed to me to be both good sound points, Gentlemen, but this man entirely disregarded them, and merely remarked:

Let’s ha’e less of thy talk! An fork out that ’awp’n’y – Ah’s nŭt gie’n’ ti̔ wait ‘ere all t’neët!”

‘I tried a different tack.

‘“But supposing that I declined to pay, my man?” said I, very severely indeed! “What then?”

Ah sŭd chuck yer ower t’brig” said he.

‘“I’ll take very good care you don’t!” cried I. “What!” I went on “What, Sir!” for the loss of a half-penny toll you would throw me over this bridge! Not knowing or caring even whether I could swim or not?!”

Aye” he replied, “that’s it!”

‘“Why I might drown, Sir!”

Yer vărry likely mŭd,” he agreed, quite composedly. “Unless yer a good swimmer. There’s a lot o’ watter in t’ river ti̔-neët.”

‘“Why! That would be a most gross assault! Nay!! It would be MURDER, Sir!! For which the penalty is Death – by hanging.”

Aye” was the sole reply.

‘“So,” cried I “So, Sir! For the sake of a paltry half-penny you would contemplate, without horror and in cold blood, the heinous crime of murdering one of Her Majesty’s lieges? To say nothing of one of Her Majesty’s Justices of Assize! What, Sir! This is incredible!! Can you possibly be in your right mind?!”

Aye” said he.

‘“For a half-penny, a half-penny! You would…!” (words failed me.)

Aye! Ah wŭd!”

‘I stared at him thoughtfully, in silence.

‘Gentlemen, the discussion of an interesting legal question, begun in proper academic form, seemed now to have descended to a lower plane; and in fact to have reached an impasse.

‘I was not really afraid that my opponent would resort to his threatened forcible argumentum ad hominem: but on the other hand it was not at all clear to me how I was to make good my passage to my lodging without distinctly risking a serious loss of dignity!

‘“Well?” said I, at length.

‘The Toll-keeper glanced up at the moon with a speculative eye. Then, smiling in a peculiarly shrewd “pawky” fashion, he said, quite respectfully:

“Ah sŭd think, Sir, ‘at it ‘ud meb-be be t’leäst bother, efther all, for you ti̔ paäy t’ ’awp’n’y?”

‘And, Gentlemen, I paid!

.   .   .   .   .   .

‘We parted in friendly fashion and, as I think, with mutual esteem.

‘I especially liked the way in which, in conducting his case, he had entirely disregarded matters totally irrelevant to the issue!’

‘A Sketch in Dialect’

“On Lendal Bridge”

T’moor poult, July 1923

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Miss Villiers used to trill tunelessly when she wasn’t talking, and seemed to walk on her toes swinging her hands around as she went along. She was my form teacher when I was 13. One of the many random questions she frequently asked out of the blue and apropos of nothing at all spooked me slightly at the time, enough for it to be the only thing I remember her saying (so much for the expensive education!)

Miss Villiers asked us how we knew we were real. Hands flapping, she excitedly warmed to her theme, asking us each to imagine going alone into an empty sound-proofed room and closing the door. How did we know that anyone left outside really existed? Could it be that we didn’t really exist and they did? Maybe we didn’t really exist unless we were in someone else’s presence? What if we sang a song in the empty room – was the activity somehow invalidated because no-one had witnessed it?

I wonder what Miss Villiers would have made of mobile phones. They’ve melted the metaphorical walls of her horrible hollow room, and we can all be ‘validated’ 24/7 these days (even in company 😉 ).

Such musing arose from re-reading the essay ‘Back Again’ after half an hour’s stumbling guitar practice – I fell to wondering about ‘valid’ activities. For no good reason I can think of (except perhaps, that my Dad bought it for me – which is a very good reason now I think of it!), I have kept my guitar since my vain attempts to master the scale of C major when I had a few guitar lessons at school. I’m not particularly musical, and not in the least bit talented, but I’ve always loved the sound of classical guitar. A number of decades and strange quirks of fate later, I found myself at lessons again a few months ago, and have now almost mastered – I use the term very loosely – the lovely ‘Spanish Ballad’ (Anon, 17th Century). I find I relish the absorption in practice – the ‘walk’ up and down the strings to strengthen my fingers, and the sound of the tune emerging in spite of my clumsy beginner’s mistakes. But in the shadows lurks a sense that I should be doing something else, something useful, something productive – something valid.

I doubt whether my countryman grandfather had such nonsense in his head when he set off for a day’s fishing at the Shallow of the Chestnut Stream in Sinnington on a fine September day in 1922. In ‘Back Again’ he paints beautiful vignettes of nature (and even of the activity of fishing itself!) and is rewarded by his critics with heartily appreciative remarks – rightly so, I feel. Take his recollection of a close encounter with kingfishers some years before on a similar trip, for example:

Extract from 'Back Again' 1922 p3 Extract from 'Back Again' 1922 p4

…I never fish the Shallow now without remembering that moment of intense life and beauty – It was such a breathless affair! – as thrilling in its way as the stoop of a Falcon –

(Punctuationistas, please note – I probably agree with you, but that’s what he wrote a hundred years ago!  😉   )

TMP marvels at the fact that, apart from three years during the War, he fished at Sinnington  “…every season for thirty eight years past, and it is rather singular that the Chestnut Tree Stream has altered so little in that time.”

When we visited Sinnington in September last year a hundred years after ‘Back Again’ was written, it still seemed barely changed – a time-capsule village around a green, along a stream, nestling against a slope of heather-dark moorland. I don’t know how many more seasons grandfather was able to go to fish in this idyllic spot. Change was coming. He travelled to Sinnington by train on the Thirsk & Malton Railway. This line had opened three years after his birth, but by the 1930s, passenger numbers had dwindled to about 35 a week, and the line slowly died – finally closing in 1953, three years after grandfather’s death. Five years’ after he wrote ‘Back Again’, he would become a father for the first time, at the age of fifty-six.

But let us return to ‘Back Again’ and revel in an enchanting description of the autumn foliage over the stream:

To-day the roof was golden in decay and flecked with spaces of blue. …Once I knocked one of the hanging boughs with my rod and a shower of leaves rustled down around and upon me – floating down the water like little fire-ships.

The day’s activity resulted in a catch “…nearly two spans in length; a most noble fish for those waters.” In fact, TMP was so proud of his trophy, he was tempted to leave a record of his triumph, as he and his school fellows had done in years gone by:

extract from Back Again, 1922, trout

I wonder if two marks were cut into a rail near a stream in Yorkshire a hundred years ago – by a tall, slim man with a ruddy face, in his middle years, burdened with canvas bags bulging with fishing gear, and carrying a prize trout. If so, perhaps those marks remained for decades, slowly succumbing to lichen and moss, and the smoothing of hands, while the stream nearby flowed unchanging.

English: Sinnington Footbridge Footbridge cros...

English: Sinnington Footbridge Footbridge crossing the River Seven at the lower end of Sinnington Main Street. The busy A170 runs close by. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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After weeks in the leafy dark, I crawl blinking, scratched and tattered from a clump of briars – a metaphorical tangle of thorns pulling me this way and that, snagging on half-formed ideas, hazy thoughts and slow-won research. So what prompted this off-blog excursion? A fox hunt and a book, that’s what. The hunt quietly trampled over my powers of reason and the books exploded my little knowledge of war into a dangerous thing.
Hmm. No wonder it’s been quiet on the relativleyfrank front…

So – the books first: two really fascinating books about the First World War I’ve been immersed in over the past couple of months are ‘Forgotten Voices of the Somme’ by Joshua Levine and ‘To End All Wars’ by Adam Hochschild. The first is a collection of verbatim reports about various aspects of the Battle of the Somme given by men who were there, of various ranks. Yes, it is tough reading in places, but it’s also wry, surprising, touching, fatalistic, uncompromising and sometimes amusing. The second puts forward a fascinating variety of viewpoints about WW1, including those of dissenters, generals, politicians, propagandists and suffragettes.

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine

Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine

I’d just started reading Adam Hochschild’s observations about how officers at the turn of the last century tended to come from the Cavalry, which in turn came from the moneyed classes because only they could afford the horses and kit, and were used to riding and – of course – hunting, when also I re-read TMP’s ‘A Tale – The Cleveland Fox’.

On the face of it, in the essay (written November 1922) TMP simply reports the description of an extraordinary chase by the Sinnington Hunt in the early 1880s as related by ‘The Colonel’ who had participated. The fox they flushed was reputed to have travelled to the locality around Kirkbymoorside and Sinnington from Cleveland, and to have run about twenty miles pretty much in a straight line due north in a bid to get home to safety. The essay is well written, but not really one of his best, but the essence of it is the admiration for the extraordinary feats of endurance and instinct on the part of the quarry, expressed not only by the Colonel but also by other members of the Hunt.

At the end of the essay, TMP’s fellow SES members enter into arguments for and against fox-hunting, which are all very familiar, even a hundred years on. I confess I don’t understand how civilised people could chase a creature to exhaustion and then allow a pack of baying hounds to tear it apart. But then I’m a soft southern suburbanite – what do I know? So I had to go and research it, didn’t I – and the first briars started catching at my sleeve.

The Sinnington Hunt, which Charles Clark Frank used to run with on foot as a boy, is a renowned Hunt of long-standing in North Yorkshire. It has a very good website at: http://www.sinningtonhunt.co.uk (sadly, though, the history doesn’t mention ‘The Old Gentleman’ Tom Parrington as Master of Foxhounds, although he was apparently quite noteworthy in the area in his time – see August 2012 archive), and seems to be thriving, in spite of the ban on hunting with dogs (or “Hounds if you please, gentlemen!” as TMP insists – followed by an explanation, of course!).

On this very good website is a thorny document called ‘Hunting, Wildlife Management and the Moral Issue’ which is a revised version of a report first published in 2009 by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management and the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group. This paper is well worth reading. It states the case for hunting with dogs, and it does so very reasonably and convincingly, particularly considering is was written by vets. Check it out (at the bottom of the webpage) at: http://www.sinningtonhunt.co.uk/17.html

By the time I’d read that document, I’d also absorbed more information about the utterly inhuman attitudes of the officers and politicians waging the war against Germany, and running cunning and sophisticated propaganda campaigns at home because they needed more troops for the Front. So I became well and truly snagged, stuck and tangled in a morass of moral brambles.

The extraordinary self-belief and pompous certitude of the chateau-dwelling generals safe behind the front line are well documented, but the sheer callousness of massively promoting patriotism and viciously stamping on pacifism at home simply in order to increase the quantity bodies to be peremptorily pulped in the bloody war machine, is shocking.

Accostomed to simply massacring peoples they perceived as inferior – for example, in the Boer War – these leaders of men were apparently unable to make the intellectual leap to even entertain the possibility that perhaps their tactics were, at best, ineffective. They simply stuck to their guns and expected the enemy to ‘play the game’. Like the instance when the Germans began to gas against the Allied army – a week prior to the gas attack a German message had been intercepted requisitioning 20,000 gas masks for German troops, but no-one had thought to act on the information. Men were just numbers.

According to his son, General Douglas Haig:

“felt it his duty to refrain from visiting the casualty clearing stations, because these visits made him physically ill.”1

A hint of humanity? Or perhaps too much harsh reality for the man who wrote:

“The nation must be taught to bear losses, … Three years of war and the loss of one-tenth of the manhood of the nation is not too great a price to pay in so great a cause.”

Hochschild records that Haig could: ‘fly into a rage when he thought British losses – and so, by association, German ones – were too low.’ And ‘Hungry Haig’ taught his subordinates well: ‘On September 30 … General Rawlinson wrote in his diary “Lawford dined. In very good form. His Division lost 11,000 casualties since July 1.”2 News of these appalling losses was filtering through to those at home. But still they came, believing that there was a ’great cause’ to fight for.

(So the briars and brambles snake and tangle – what on earth drove men to enlist in their millions? Propaganda and patriotism? But can such a double-edged sword really be enough of a prod? Could a greater spur be the fear of being thought unpatriotic? Or was the propaganda so convincing that a sense of adventure could be sufficiently stirred to make a man sign up? Are any of these really sufficient incentives?)

Remoteness was what the exalted commanders excelled in, dealing only with facts and figures. Nearer the action, but still safely behind the lines, some cavalry officers, redundant in the face of a no-man’s land filled with craters and barbed wire, held competitions, a horse show, or went fox-hunting with dogs they had brought with them to France.
Some officers, and even some troops, are recorded as revelling in what Julian Grenfell called the:

“fighting-excitement [which] vitalizes everything, every sign and word and action.”3

As a keen huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ Lord’s son, Grenfell was a good shot, and took his ‘game book’ with him when he went to fight in France. In it were entries for October 1914 of ‘105 partridges’ bagged at home, followed by ‘One Pomeranian’ on November 16 and ‘Two Pomeranians’ the next day, after a raid on a German trench.4 Julian Grenfell is celebrated as a Poet of the Great War in Westminster Abbey, for, among other work, ‘Into Battle’: http://net.lib.byu.edu/english/wwi/poets/IntoBattle.html. He was killed in action in 1915.

Will it ever be possible to truly understand why men were willing to endure the appalling conditions and sacrifices they experienced in the trenches of the First World War? The sheer complexity of this animal we call human makes it possible for the decision-makers to plot their wide objectives with intellectual detachment, then stir the blood and raise the emotions to persuade men to fight to attain them, no matter what the cost, no matter whether their efforts were effective.

Enmerging from my thorny thicket, I realise I had always believed the main characteristics of both hunting and war to be oppression and callousness, and that a sort of ‘Tally Ho!’ mentality prevailed among the generals due to their privileged backgrounds. Now, although a few snags remain, I am certain that the oppression and callousness are solely attributable to those who plan and wage war. Politicians and commanders who commit men to kill each other for one ‘great cause’ or another, seem to deny their humanity to the point of blindness, rigidly sticking to their decisions, and damn the consequences, so long as their objectives (which are not always obvious or great) are achieved. Apparently, few peace negotiations were undertaken during the First World War, and both sides assumed that it would be over within months of starting, even as it continued and the human cost grew. Besides, God was on the side of the righteous.

As far as hunting goes, everything’s a lot clearer. During a chase, the fox, a ‘quarry species’ brings all its instincts to bear to evade the hounds, and does not experience fear in the manner attributed to it by humans, who do. Hounds are a ‘scenting and tracking’ species, and if a hound finds its quarry, the kill is instant, so no fox escapes to die slowly of injuries. Both animals do what comes naturally, and before hunting with dogs was banned in 2005, humans on horseback usually followed them, appreciating the thrill of the chase and admiring the tactics of the fox – and only one in six foxes were killed during any season.

Exrtacts from ‘A Tale – The Cleveland Fox’ written in 1922:
Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p2

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p3

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p4

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p5

References
1 P210, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild
2 p209, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild
3, 4 p126, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild

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Having mistakenly thought I had come to an end when I finished reading the last essay, I’m now re-reading some of them – and delving a little deeper…

In 1922 TMP wrote an essay about a ‘corduroy road’:

“…built of logs by the Engineers, [which] lay like a dusty ribbon in front of us, barely wide enough for our passage four abreast.”

The essay concerns moments during which CCF and his men are forced to stop – in the open – while crossing the Ancre Marshes under enemy fire. Incredibly, writing several years later TMP recalls the beauty of the scene:Extract from 'A Road' 1922 - p1

Extract from 'A Road' 1922 - p2

Suddenly all hell broke loose as the two sides exchanged fire over the valley:

Extract from 'A Road' 1922 - p3

Miraculously, CCF and his men were not harmed and during a lull they were able to continue to Thiepval Wood. It must have been a terrifiying experience but, true to form, TMP defies the norm and recollects a

“…wonderful summer’s day, so happy and serene in the midst of so many and so great dangers.”

He then wistfully describes the destruction of the area wreaked when the Germans returned two years later: Extract from 'A Road' 1922 - p9

When ‘A Road’ was written CCF was fifty-one years of age and endeavouring to re-establish his practice as a solicitor in Leeds. His King, George V, was fifty-seven and had dominion over a quarter of the globe. Just four years after the WW1 ceasefire, the King travelled to Belgium and France, without pomp or ceremony, to visit the battlefields.

A page from The King's Pilgrimage 1922

King George V during The King’s Pilgrimage in 1922, when he visited the war graves and memorials of many nations in Belgium and France

Viewing the acres of graves where lay his fellow countrymen and ‘…the gentlemen from out of all the seas’, the King declared:

I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”

‘The King’s Pilgrimage’ as it became known, was commemorated in a poem of that name by Rudyard Kipling (a favourite poet of Charles Clark Frank’s) who, through his involvement with the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) was part of the entourage. Just weeks after their return, the poem was published in a book with a commentary by Frank Fox and poignant photographs supplied by various press sources. ‘By his Majesty’s desire’ proceeds from sales of the book went to organisations which enabled relatives travel to the cemeteries.

You can see the original book as a PDF at: http://archive.org/details/kingspilgrimage00foxf – it is beautiful in its simplicity and worth looking at – or you can read it online at the same site, although it doesn’t give quite the same experience.
Very moving.

Surrounding the serried rows of sentinel crosses a stealthy enemy lurks to this day. Every year since the First World War, an ‘iron harvest’ is reaped by French and Belgian farmers. The swamp-like conditions of trench warfare during the War had swallowed weapons which landed in the sucking mud so that the earth now gives up unexploded shells, barbed wire, shrapnel balls and bullets during ploughing, and rusting shells pollute the land and the water table around the Ypres Salient and the River Somme. Sometimes escaping mustard gas still spreads its killing cloud, and many people have died while clearing or disposing of these destructive remnants.

War is never really over.

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Whatever happens I shall never be anything but glad that I did get my chance to go to the War – it robbed me of my good prospects in life, but I am still alive : where so many gave up their lives in all the splendid promise of their youth.


And it might be that in the after time, by reason of my thus having simply done my duty (and God knows that it was also my pleasure!) some one who loves me may say, in charity, that ‘His life had some smatch of honour in it’
.”

So ‘Jottings from my Autobigraphy’ ends. I believe I have come as near to loving someone I’ve never met as may be possible, and now it is “the after time”, and I say – in truth, not in charity – that my grandfather’s life had an abundance of honour in it, and I give thanks for him with all my heart.

*

Can’t help wondering what on earth ‘smatch’ means. It has to be a typo, surely – but no, apparently it’s simply another word for ‘smack’!
There has been a long delay since I was last able to actually work on the essays, but during that time I was aware of a strange mixture of feelings: I’d nearly finished reading them and was keen to complete the circle, but I didn’t want to get to that apparently final point. I was also getting really frustrated that there has been no opportunity recently to get on with it!
Glimpsing my grandfather’s “richly stored and variegated rag-bag” of a mind through his essays has been a hugely rewarding and at times deeply moving experience which I started very reluctantly – and rather erratically – when I brought home several carrier bags crammed with filthy, dusty old papers, sometime in 2010, I think. There are still a few papers to sort, but I believe all the complete essays are now read, scanned, logged, labelled and filed in date order.

So now it is done.

The Essays

The Essays in their serried ranks. Behind are 4 boxes – and many photos to sort!

Or is it? I need to start sorting the photos! But that’s not the last of the essays – in fact, I now feel as though I’m starting a different phase. I shall be re-reading some of them, researching further, and continuing the blog. I wonder where the search will this lead me now?  To Wikipedia  –  and beyond!

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