And see his children fed.” For Johnny, written by John Pudney on the back of an envelope as the bombs fell on London in 1941.
The Remembrance Garden in Princes Street Gardens, right in the shadow of the Scott Monument; in the background were some anti-war protesters, although I should say they were quiet and not at all disrespectful; in fact I saw some talking to some old veterans. I don’t think they had anything against the soldiers or those paying respects to the fallen, just against the concept of war, and its hard to disagree with that.
Some of the markers in the Remembrance Garden are plain, many have names or regiments or ships or squadrons marked on them. This one touched me the most – it simply read “to dad”. I have no idea if the dad in question fell in one of the recent conflicts or half a century ago; I doubt it matters, the pain and loss and grief will still hurt as much.
This one was marked to ‘Uncle Alex’ on HMS Hood; the Hood was a famous, huge Royal Navy battlecruiser. During a duel with the German pocket battleship Bismarck she was completely destroyed; its thought a lucky hit penetrated the weaker upper deck armour and set off a magazine. She exploded and sank almost instantly taking hundreds and hundreds of men with her to the bottom of the ocean; only three sailors from this enormous ship survived. Some say one of her turrets fired a last salvo as she sank. The comedic actor and former Doctor Who Jon Pertwee also served on the Hood and had transferred off her just shortly before the battle to train as a chief petty officer, or he may never have lived to become a famous entertainer.
Not just historical battles remembered here but also the here and now as someone marks a cross for the men and women serving in Afghanistan right now.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month
Young Croesus went to pay his call On Colonel Sawbones, Caxton Hall: And, though his wound was healed and mended, He hoped he’d get his leave extended.
The waiting-room was dark and bare. He eyed a neat-framed notice there Above the fireplace hung to show Disabled heroes where to go For arms and legs; with scale of price, And words of dignified advice How officers could get them free.
Elbow or shoulder, hip or knee, Two arms, two legs, though all were lost, They’d be restored him free of cost. Then a Girl Guide looked to say, ‘Will Captain Croesus come this way?’
“Arms and the man”, Siegfried Sassoon
Sassoon, often referred to as the most innocent of the Great War poets, turned his poetry and his inventive sarcasm not only on the war and the enemy of the time but on the damned fool politicians (we could use more of that today – sadly we still have stupid fools who seem to make the decision to send people out to fight and die all too easily; perhaps each leader who would consider leading us into war should be forced to put forward a blood guarantee by only being allowed to send us to war if a close blood relation of theirs goes to. Then maybe they might suddenly think on other ways…).
Incidentally Sassoon escaped full censure from a less than forgiving military and political elite for speaking his mind by being classes as ‘shell-shocked’, which in truth he probably was but it doesn’t lessen his criticisms. He was sent to recuperate at Craiglockhart, not far from where I live in Edinburgh where among those being treated by psychiatrists (officers only, enlisted men didn’t get such treatment, needless to say) he met and befriended another of that dreadful slaughter’s greatest makkers, Wilfred Owen. They might have walked some of the same streets near me or the ones in the centre of Edinburgh when they sneaked out for the day. Then they were sent back to a man-made hell. Damn every bastard who thinks the sword, the gun and the bomb is the simplest and quickest way to achieve their aims.