Friday, May 15, 2009

Songs and Sacrifice

Cross of Sacrifice
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I find myself almost unable to start blogging about the Somme trip which has just ended. The emotions roused by contemplating the sheer numbers of dead, the ubiquity of the cemeteries - these contrast with memories of laughter, company and singing and my first reaction is to feel discomfiture. Where do I start? And then I reflect that the men who went into battle and died in their thousands sang those self-same songs, and that they enjoyed each other's company and laughed at the daft jokes of their pals, and I think: just start.

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.


  1. There is something that stirs the heart beyond imagining when viewing such "atrocities".

    I have a dear friend who was raised in a military family and I saw the concern as her son went off to Iraq and the immense relief upon his return home. But in the midst of the wondering about his safety and such, my friend said that in her heart of hearts, if anything "were to happen", it would be well with her, as he felt a sense of duty in serving his country. Hard for me to sink my teeth into, but I've not lived as she has.

    Lately I have been thinking that in the grand scheme of things, events that totally shock us and leave us feeling uncomfortable are not so shocking to God.....

  2. Thank you for that thought - I have a use for it!