Hearts For Hearts

While at the football stadiums all around the country players and fans are observing a minute’s silence for tomorrow’s Remembrance Sunday,  I just learned that Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) was the first British club whose players signed up en masse for World War One.

Sixteen players enlisted, and on the first day of the Battle of the Somme three died. Of the sixteen in total, seven died in the war and seven were seriously injured.

That’s the kind of statistic that brings home just how devastating that war was.

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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Today We Remember: A Personal View

On the way to Manchester, in Collyhurst, there is a war memorial that lists the names of local men who died in the First World War.

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Among that obscenely long list of names are two which have a personal and emotional connection to myself-two of my great grandfathers.

One is my mum’s grandfather-Albert Cartwright.

Here he is pictured with his wife Ada as he is about to leave for war. Tall and proud in his Lancashire Fusiliers uniform.

Albert and Ada

I cannot help but contrast the image of Ada here, bidding farewell to her husband with all the fears and uncertainties that that must have involved, with the strong, confident, formidable woman she appears as on another photograph I have of her. (On the right).

Ada

Albert did return home, but died the day before new year’s eve in 1919, as a result of being gassed when at the front.

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The other name is my Dad’s grandfather: Timothy O’Sullivan.

He died on 10th January 1917 and is buried in Thessaloniki, Greece. A local orphan who was destined to lie in foreign soil.

In those days, family members had neither the means nor the opportunity to visit the graves of their loved ones who died overseas. A family notice, placed in the local newspaper by his older half-sister, spoke of ‘the pain of an unknown grave.’

On the 90th anniversary of Timothy’s death, I stood at that grave. Conscious that his widow and children never made it there, I felt the ghosts of my gran and my great aunt looking over my shoulder. Two women who often spoke of the man they never knew. I felt I represented them, along with my Dad, and my children. All the descendants of the chain.

Tim

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Every year on Remembrance Sunday, I take part in the service at that memorial, conscious of the links and the sacrifice and the blood that runs in my veins.

I let my daughters place a cross that holds the names of their two ancestors, along with the name of my wife’s great uncle who was worked to death as a prisoner of the Japanese, building the notorious Burma-Siam railway in World War Two.

Fred Dyson

My wife’s great uncle is the tall, strapping guy stood on the right. Fred Dyson, he died 15th Nov 1943. A generation on, a different war, the same sense of loss.

I have posted all of these photographs here to serve as a further memorial.

Every Remembrance Sunday, as well as the men who are represented by those cold, carved letters in stone, my thoughts turn also to my two grandmothers who are no longer here. Two women who I was close to, two women who as children both grew up without their fathers because of war.

That is reason alone for me, and my children, to remember.

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