Thursday, 14 April 2016

History - Living names in the here and now.

This  week our theme is history. I have to confess to you that as soon as I hear the word, my mind springs back to school days, to Miss Swift and endless foreign and Civil Wars; Napoleonic and American Wars of Independence and our own conquests across what was The British Empire. These were, it seems, only briefly interrupted by the beauty of the Renaissance; the Industrial Revolution; the beginnings founding of our own democracy and our bloody reformation.

Although I loved learning about the past and often walk into the anecdotal history of my own family,  I love art and music,  I love the great out doors but until recently, have not really spent much time thinking about history.  I prefer the 'Black Adder' satirical twist in the tales of great historical moments that changed the world.

The period from 2014- 2018 marks the Centenary of our bloodiest and most hideous call to war. The Great War, as it was known before a second misadventure of similar greatness affected the lives of everyone.  It was more than a series of unfortunate events. At Westminster Abbey there is a tomb and memorial dedicated to the memory of The Unknown Warrior. 

In 1920, as part of ceremonies in Britain to commemorate the dead of World War One, there was a proposal that the body of an unknown soldier, sailor or airman lying in an unmarked grave abroad be returned to England for burial in Westminster Abbey. This was to symbolise all those who had died for their country, but whose place of death was not known, or whose body remained unidentified.

It is thought that the idea came from the reverend David Railton, who had served as a chaplain on the Western Front. There are a number of versions of how the selection of the Unknown Warrior was made, but it is generally agreed that between four and six bodies were exhumed from each of the main British battle areas on the Western Front on the night of 7 November 1920, and brought to the chapel at St Pol, in northern France. Each was covered with a Union Jack. The commander of British troops in France and Flanders, Brigadier General LJ Wyatt, picked one. This was placed in a coffin which was taken to Boulogne, where it was transported to Dover on HMS Verdun. The other bodies were reburied.

On the morning of 11 November 1920 - the second anniversary of the armistice that ended World War One - the body of the Unknown Warrior was drawn in a procession to the Cenotaph. This new war memorial on Whitehall, designed by Edwin Lutyens, was then unveiled by George V. At 11 o'clock there was a two-minute silence, and the body was then taken to Westminster Abbey where it was buried at the west end of the nave. To the surprise of the organisers, in the week after the burial an estimated 1,250,000 people visited the abbey and the site is now one of the most visited war graves in the world. The text inscribed on the tomb is taken from the bible (2 Chronicles 24:16): 'They buried him among the kings, because he had done good toward God and toward his house'.

The men who died in World War One are remembered only as shadows in the poetry of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.  Their names are absent, like the unknown warrior. During this four year period, we have the chance to push this anonymity into the past where it belongs. People all over the world are sharing family knowledge of  their war dead. Here in Wyre, there is a listed Memorial Park at Fleetwood and Wyre Council have commissioned local artist Linzi Casson to work on a project based on the research of local historians Mr & Mrs Lougher, that hopes to bring the names listed on Fleetwood's Memorial stones to life.

The names have been painstakingly researched, individual family and regimental  histories traced and many photographs have been collected of the young men who left this areas for war and never returned. Linzi  is running workshops to combine screen printed images of the men with details of their lives: where they lived; how they were employed; their regiment and where they died.  The project is a poignant tribute to ordinary people and it will be a wonderfully documented, living social history. The best thing is that we can all take part: we can all help to make the names of those who gave up their lives, live again in the here and now. Contact Linzi Casson or Chris Wyatt at Wyre Council for more details.

My poem today was commissioned for the rededication of the ICI War Memorial near Thornton Little Theatre. Local people, including The Windmill Players, helped to raise the funding to restore the stone work and name plaques. Since responsibility for its care and maintenance now rests with Wyre Council it was thought a fitting tribute for a poem to be written and read at the ceremony. I am deeply honoured to be able to serve those who served me.

Home at Last 

The Imperial lion tops your monument,
symbolic of the strength
that carried you from cosy hearth
to uncertain foreign shores,
some, adventurous volunteers,
some severed by conscription,
leaving loving families,
to defend our King and Nation,
from overthrow by tyranny,
from fascist domination.

True salts of Wyre earth,
united by the call to arms,
you sacrificed your own lives,
so that others went unharmed.
There is no greater love than this:
to close a Burn Naze terrace door,
and march, heads high,
into the fearful theatres of two world wars.

We cannot share your mud-filled trenches,
feel the horrors of your fight,
but we can stand together,
memory keepers for your un-kissed wives,
your unborn children,
the lost potential of your part-lived lives.
Here in this gentle garden,
as generations travel past,
in peace, we pause to give our thanks.

Our brave lads – home at last.

Adele V.  Robinson
Thank you for reading.  Adele



Steve Rowland said...

Thank you Adele for such an informative blog and a wonderful poem. It is a powerful and affecting tribute to those who went to fight for our freedom.

Annie Walton said...

What time and thought you have invested in this piece Adele ..... As you do in all your writings . Very moving . Xxxx