Remembrance Sunday

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9 November 2014

Sunday was about remembrance in more ways than one. It began with two minutes of silence and the Queen laying a wreath of poppies on the cenotaph in London. Of course we weren’t there, we were standing silently in the gym watching on TV and thinking of all those who gave their lives for our freedom.

There’d been a plan to walk to the cenotaph in Southampton later and look at the poppies but Commando thought it would be too crowded, besides he had another job to do and wanted me to be there. When Commando’s mother died Commando Senior planted an apple tree in his garden in her memory. The house will soon be sold and, as the tree was in a sorry state, it was decided that we would dig it up and replant it in our garden. It may not survive but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have survived where it was anyway.

When he dug the tree up Commando found a little pot containing some of his mother’s ashes buried beneath it. He spread them around when he replanted the tree. He had saved some of Commando Senior’s ashes to sprinkle there too and this morning, after the service, that was what he did. Now they are reunited.

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Rather than go to the cenotaph in town Commando suggested we drive out to Eastleigh and visit the cenotaph there. I’ve walked through the little green space in the centre of Eastleigh many times on my long walks towards Twyford and Winchester but I’ve never really explored it. The Recreation Ground, as it’s known, was once Little Eastleigh Farm and, in 1896, it was turned into a park, known at first as the Cricket Field. An avenue of trees were planted and, in 1900, the Railway Company just along the road built a wooden bandstand.

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During World War I it was used as a field hospital and the war memorial was erected in 1923. Fitting then that we should come here to see the wreaths and cards. We walked through the park, under an interesting wisteria arch that must be stunning in summer and along to the war memorial. The clouds were dark and brooding and the memorial quite beautiful, surrounded by clipped box hedges and topped with a bronze angel. The base of the memorial was filled with poppy wreaths. We stopped to read the cards.
“There are so many stories here,” Commando said.

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For me Remembrance Sunday is always about one story though, the story of a soldier in the trenches during World War I. His name was Thomas John Haley and he was my grandfather, otherwise known as Pappy. When I was a child he lived with us so I spent a lot of time with him. He didn’t talk too much about the trenches but I knew he was there amongst the mud and bullets. He taught me the songs they used to sing. On winter’s days we’d sit beside the fire and sing, ‘pack up your troubles in your old kit bag,’ ‘it’s a long way to Tipperary’ or ‘Mademoiselle from Armentieres.’

Thomas John Haley
Thomas John Haley

It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven that I learned his war story, or part of it anyway. He had a carbuncle on his back and Mother had to put ointment on it. That was when I saw the scar, a horrific looking cross about five inches by five on the left side of his back. Of course I asked about it and, slightly reluctantly, he told me.

In the trenches night was the busiest time, a time when men could move about more freely and get things done, things that were, during the day, too dangerous. The mud was everywhere and the stench of dirty or dead bodies. Clothes were filthy, the seams alive with lice. Occasionally, when there was the chance, they might manage to wash a few things.

On this particular night Pappy had done some washing and, in the act of hanging it to dry, the face of his luminous watch caught the attention of a sniper. The bullet went through the left side of his back. He didn’t talk about pain. Instead he spoke of the bare wooden boards of a hospital train and a journey across France to a field hospital. There they removed the bullet, along with his left lung. Against the odds he survived but his war was over. The ordeal turned his hair white, although he was only in his early thirties.

His is just one story amongst far too many and, unlike so many others, he lived to tell the tale. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Sadly, it wasn’t. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month we must remember them and the terrible sacrifices they made for our freedom.

Published by

Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

16 thoughts on “Remembrance Sunday”

  1. You have picked a timely topic for today, Veteran’s Day. We in the USA have been enthralled with photos of the artistic “poppy stream” flowing from the tower to the meadow below. Brits certainly know well how to observe ritual with pomp and circumstance and honor their heroes. Great post!

    1. Thank you. Today I went to the World War I monument at the military cemetery and was treated to an unexpected rendition of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. More of that in another post though.

  2. If it wasn’t for people like your pappy who knows what the work would be like now .. Thank you for sharing your history.. X

  3. I never realized how much military families go through until my son joined the Air Force. Knowing that at any time with no warning he could be in the middle of a war somewhere is a real burden to have to live with.
    So, as much as your grandfather went through, the rest of your family went through it right along with him, in a different way. In those days it must have been so much worse though, because it’s the not knowing that gnaws at you. At least now we have email.

    1. I’ve always been thankful none of my boys had a hankering to join the forces. It must be terribly difficult to live with the knowledge of the danger they are in. In the midst of World War I it must have been almost unbearable. So many young men didn’t come back and the fear of a knock at the door and a telegram bearing bad news must have been constant.

  4. My Garden Gnome has a great uncle who was killed at Gallipoli the day before the forces withdrew. He lied about his age to enlist and was 18 when he died. Very sad indeed.

    1. Pi have visited several different war cemeteries and the thing that strikes me most is the ages on the stones. So many of them we so young. So very sad.

        1. I think the idea of fighting for King and country probably sounded very good until they got into those trenches. Still, we do owe them a great deal for the sacrifice they made.

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