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This morning, at the grave of my Gt.Grandfather.

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Remember #2

My five year old son loves the movie Zulu. While we were still in the cemetery (of my previous post) he wanted to see the graves of three soldiers that actually took part in the battle at Rorke’s Drift. Although we did not have time to go seeking out these graves, to placate him I did take him to these memorials that commemorate those individuals, and also veterans of other battles such as the one that became known as, and a movie made of, The Charge Of The Light Brigade.

Maybe it says something of our society that certain battles are remembered only because of the movies that documented them. Still.

Also remembered are some local firefighters that lost their lives, and people who died working at the colliery pit that used to be nearby.

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Remember #1

Today, for the first time, we were unable to attend the Remembrance Sunday service that takes place at a local memorial in Collyhurst, where ancestors of mine are listed. So instead, yesterday, we took our remembrance crosses to Phillip’s Park cemetery. Normally, we place one cross at the service, then one in the cemetery where one of these ancestors lies.

In a cold, autumn wind, my son placed a cross on the unmarked grave of his Gt Gt Grandfather, who died in 1919 as a result of being gassed at the front. Once a year, around the spot when other forgotten members of my family once stood, this anonymous spot is located by a marker.

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It lay lost amongst the autumn foliage, barely noticeable to any passing mourners, but to those to whom this kind of thing matters, we know it is there.

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Our second cross this year found a home at the memorial in this cemetery. No doubt this morning, the day after we visited, these three, lonely crosses will be joined by a forest of others, each placed in the name of people long gone. Side by side, on parade.

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The sword and the cross. The suffering and the hope. Symbol and silence.

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In memory of my two Gt Grandfathers, and my wife’s Gt Uncle. R.I.P

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Where My Great Grandfather Lies

The location is only recently discovered. An unmarked grave, a place where he has lay since succumbing finally to the gas that ravaged and burned his airways and lungs. Effects that would have thwarted any joyful, loving, homecoming.

New Year’s Eve, 1919. The day that the year would have trembled on the edge of extinction, dragged that wheezing, gasping man with it.

The world moved on to new beginnings.

Today, the ground is just the ground, unremarkable, undisclosed. The air is dank and cold, resonant with stirring echoes that insinuate images and moments that the imagination seizes and runs with.

A broken woman holds a young girl’s hand, their emotions fluid and merging, seeping deep into the soil.

The seasons pass, the earth turns, the girl grows into a woman who now holds the hand of another girl, a chain link of affected generations.

The original woman now shares the space with the man, beneath their feet. Black lace married to khaki for eternity.

This later woman lays flowers on the anonymous spot, watched by the girl who swallows her questions, then they both wander away to visit another, freshly festering, sore.

The girl glances back once as they near the chapel, sees me, distant, taking my turn.

Devoid of crosses, I leave this marker, small and consumed, in this place that has anchored fatherless girls to stare at an empty spot, while daring to contemplate alternative worlds.

I depart this ground with a solemn promise, and the autumn leaves gently circle, dancing to time’s capricious tune.

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First World War Centenary Series #2: Grave Search

A week last Sunday my wife, three of my children and I went to Phillips Park Cemetery, in Manchester, to search for the resting place of some of my ancestors. Armed with a grave reference number, we went to view the place that my Great Grandfather Albert Cartwright, wife Ada, baby daughter Edith, eleven old daughter Margaret, and Ada’s brother George Campbell all rest.

I was also verifying my Mum’s memory that there was no headstone there, for reasons of my own. She recalls that when her Mum, my Gran Lillian, used to visit her husband’s grave, she would save some of the flowers that she brought with her for his grave, and place them on the  ground where her mother Ada was buried.  She didn’t recall any mention of the other family members. An on-line search told me that Ada shared her resting place with her other kin named above.

This is Albert Cartwright with Ada. He was in the 11th btn Lancashire Fusiliers. He died at home the day before New Year’s Eve in 1919, as a result of being gassed when fighting at the front. His war records were destroyed in the bombing of the Second World War, but I do have his death certificate. His cause of death is given as Lobar Pneumonia and cardiac failure. Those who suffered the effects of gas, with the damage done to the lungs and throat, were often susceptible to ailments like pneumonia and bronchial problems.

Ada died in 1927.

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Phillips Park Cemetery is a lovely, well kept cemetery near to Manchester City’s Etihad stadium. It houses, among others, the remains of men who participated in he battle at Rorke’s Drift, made famous by the film Zulu, and also the one that became known as the Charge Of The Light Brigade.

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First thing we saw was the war memorial.

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My children-three faces among the names.

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They loved running in the neat, open spaces. My Doctor Who-mad three and a half year old son marched among the graves as a Cyberman. Maybe a Phillips Park first. But he did seem wary around the many weeping angels. These evil denizens of time and space were in a bad way, many of them missing limbs or threatening with amputated stumps.

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This created poppy site was a nice touch-although at that time there were only a few of the flowers blooming.

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The blood flower.

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Eventually we located the site of the family grave, and Mum was right, there was no headstone. They lie buried in a plot between the light coloured headstone and the tree.

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Beneath that earth lie two generations of my ancestors. I couldn’t help but think of the ones who have stood here when that earth lay open, mourning for their loved one being gently lowered and covered from view. People of my blood, my line.

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When I was a teenager I lost a photograph of Albert, which had been taken at the front. Situated among the mud was one of those early, prototype tanks. Albert and a handful of other men were sat in front and on top of this tank. It was a great photograph, memorable and emotive. I have lamented its loss ever since.

With all the recent publicity about the First World War centenary, showing the many, too many, graves that lie throughout the world, and also the memory of the grave that I visited in Thessaloniki, in Greece, belonging to my other Great-Grandfather, I began to think. Albert  died as a result of his injuries in battle. Surely he would qualify for a war grave, as stipulated by the  War Graves Commission?

I shall look into it, try and get him a headstone as recompense for losing that photograph. Sacrifices such as Albert’s should not go unrecognised. Unmarked. Many times I had passed that spot of bare ground when cutting through the cemetery to go to the Manchester City games, and never knew that he, and the rest of the family, were buried there.

Whether I end up acquiring a headstone or not, I am glad that I located the site. It is not too far from the memorial that I attend every Remembrance Sunday that hosts my other Great-Grandfather’s name. I will be bringing an extra cross to stick into the ground there.

On the way out we sought out my Grandparents grave. My Gran, with my Grandfather, lies a five minute walk away from where she used to lay lowers upon that bare, anonymous ground.

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