Friday, May 15, 2009
Songs and Sacrifice
So this is where I begin, with the things which hit me first. The songs, for example. When I printed out the guide to the trip, complete with WW1 song words, I thought I'd never sing along on the bus. I couldn't imagine doing anything at once so naive and so insensitive. But I was wrong. For after walking through the rows of graves - the photo is of the first we saw, near Ypres - and travelling by coach through the map of the Western Front, it seemed somehow fitting to sing, to recall how the soldiers would keep their spirits up. And we raised the roof, that first night in the village of Longueval where ten of us were billeted.
That first evening, after dinner, four of us walked up the road to Delville Wood cemetery. The sun was setting, red behind the dark trees, and it became harder to read the inscriptions on the stones. But one of them caught my eye. Private G.A. Pain of the London Regiment, Royal Fusiliers, was 16 years old when he died on 19 September, 1916. He would be sitting his Highers right now - or maybe just his Standard Grades. He died in a battle for the wood which is described as one of the most hellish on the Somme, and I couldn't begin to imagine what reserves of courage he called on. Maybe he didn't. Maybe he simply realised that, once there, there was nothing else to do but go with his mates and last as long as he could.
It was dark by the time we walked back to the billet - and that seemed right.