My grandfather was in the army for about five years as a boy soldier and came out in 1907 as a trained carpenter. In 1914 he rejoined the Royal Engineers and served throughout the war. Wounded three times and awarded the Military Medal for saving his officer after a failed attack on enemy lines. He was told after his third wound in 1916 that he would not be returned to the front lines and so he and my grandmother decided to have a baby. My mother was born in October 1917 and in June the next year he was sent back for the final push.
He was killed by a sniper on November 2nd 102 years ago today – 9 days before the cease fire. My grandmother had moved house and was told he was missing. She did not find out until three weeks after the peace celebrations that he had been killed. He was 31 years old.
My sister Diana found out where he was buried in a small village cemetery called Poix du Nord – about 65 Kilometres south of Brussels. She and her husband took my mother to visit the grave and in 1998, when my husband and I were living in Belgium we all visited on the 80th anniversary of his death. He was surrounded by 40 other graves of those who were killed with him that final week near the village.
We obviously never met him and my mother did not remember him. However, I hope that in some world, he knows that he left a legacy behind of four grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and three great, great grandchildren.
This story was mirrored on both sides of the conflict and across many nationalities and this year marks the 102nd anniversary of the war that was supposed to end all wars!
This is a very small tribute to the bravery of my grandfather and all the ‘Tommies’ or their counterparts that gave their lives and their youth so that all of us can write freely today.
‘Tommy’ 1914-1918 – Sally Cronin
We heard the call and answered it
Dropped our shovels and Eton jacket both.
We lads queued and were passed as fit
To fight for our King and Country.
We stood in line, stubbed out our fears
Preparing to march through the village throng.
Mothers smiled and hid their tears
As fathers slapped shoulders in pride.
Stiff in our khaki and brown boot
Fumbling fingers tried to load practice guns.
Aimed at straw figures, learned to shoot
A pretend foe we killed with ease.
Seasick, homesick huddled like swine
We leave our childhood and mothers behind.
Boys, led by boys, head for the line
To meet our manhood face to face.
First battle, a so called victory
Leaves friends gone or missing in a heartbeat.
But, we’re told we’ve made history
And that our generals are proud.
First leave, and we hide the tremors
As we embrace our mothers as a man.
But the night still holds the terrors
As sleepless we wait for the dawn.
Tomorrow I’ll return, to trench
To the comrades who understand my fear.
Who share the mud, rats and the stench
Who understand that I have changed.
For I’m no more, Bob, Jim or Jack
But ‘Tommy’ a khaki, muddy soldier.
Who may never find his way back
To the land of milk and honey.
©sallycronin Tommy 2014