We are asked here in the UK, via the media, to commemorate the 100th anniversary (4th August 1914) of the beginning of World War One, by putting out our lights from 10 to 11 pm, and lighting candles. We shall set up a torch on our dining room windowsill, which looks out directly onto the street. We shall make a circular walk around the town, which will take in the cathedral and the high street as well as private dwellings.
To the left is my grandfather, who fought in the French trenches of World War One. He was twice decorated for bravery, with the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal. On one occasion, he went out from his trench into no-man’s-land to drag a wounded officer back to safety.
My grandfather was a coal miner all his life. He won a scholarship to grammar school, but his family was so poor that he was unable to take it up; instead, at the age of 11, he had to go down into the mines to earn a living. He returned to ‘the pits’ after the war.
The photo to the right is of my grandfather’s younger brother, Edwin. He falsified his age to enlist and followed my grandfather out to France. When my grandfather discovered this, he had him sent home. Edwin secretly enlisted again, again falsifying his age. He was killed, his body never discovered, near the Belgian border, just months before the end of the war in 1918.
Edwin is commemorated on a stone plaque on a wall in a cemetery for the Canadian war dead, at Vis-en-Artois, near Arras, in Northern France.
My grandfather never really recovered from the death of his brother, and from his war experiences. He served as a special constable during World War Two.
During the time my husband and I lived in France, we visited the cemetery at Vis-en-Artois, where I placed a single yellow rose at the foot of the wall on which Edwin’s name appears.
The rose was yellow to represent the yellow rose called Peace that my grandfather cultivated in his garden after the second world war; and during my early lifetime, as I have a strong memory of this rose in his garden; and of knowing its name.
And the poppy is a photo I took of a poppy in a farmed field just off a section of the white cliffs of Dover, during a walk. I was struck by the fragility and transparency of this flower, which has yet endured as one of the strongest of symbols worldwide. How odd that I have recently had a fall from one of these white cliffs, breaking my shoulder.