Lest we forget

5 08 2014

As I write this it’s the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1. I have a very tenuous link to it; my paternal grandfather was killed at the Somme in 1917.  Of course I never knew Lionel Roberts and neither did my father. In fact my father was born in 1925 some 8 years after Lionel’s death and his real father’s name does not appear on his birth certificate. My sister noticed this and asked my mother about it but she clammed up; some things were just not discussed. Us siblings were intrigued – a SCANDAL in the family, now that was something to boast about! However, my mother died with her secret and now there is no-one else alive who knows the answer. One day I plan to visit Lionel’s grave and pay my respects to him – the “grandson” he never knew who also payed a high price for being a soldier.

In August 1987 I knew none of this and was cycling through northern France on a 20 pound bicycle purchased off a hostel warden in Whitechapel, London. Northern France is littered with cemeteries of all nationalities. Most are pretty nondescript but the American cemetery at Verdun is an exception. I lost the photo but I can still recall the softly rustling oak trees, the brilliant green grass in the morning sunshine and the sad lines of white crosses stretching off in all directions. It was terribly peaceful. The Americans do cemeteries well and this was one of them.

I don’t recall the poppies in the wheat fields on that trip but in 2010 I was back in France trying to salvage a failing relationship (I failed) and we stopped near a field of poppies bobbing peacefully in the wind. The photos still exist on a hard drive somewhere but were not that good.

poppy2This morning in the nursery there was this poppy growing near the ponds of tobacco seedlings. I have no idea how it got there – maybe a seed crop from last year but I cannot recall seeing poppies there. It had a flower on it last week but today was another fresh one, coincidentally recalling a terrible war long ago and far away. In London tonight lights will be extinguished throughout the capital and replaced with candles in remembrance of the 888,246 British fatalities.

There is an irony in this short tale. The war dead from the Rhodesian bush war, in which I was involved, are not officially remembered within the country. That is the dead whom were fighting on the side of the Rhodesian forces. A number of memorials exist outside the country but within the country they are not welcome. However, next Monday, 11th August, is a national holiday. This is Heroes Day to celebrate those that died fighting for Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo – fighting against the Rhodesians. Such is the price one pays for losing a war – the winners get to rewrite the history. One day maybe we’ll get the right to officially remember our dead but in the meantime turn off your lights, light a candle and remember those who paid the ultimate price in the “war to end all wars” that started 100 years ago.

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