Smorgasbord Poetry Remembrance – The War Poets – Edmund Blunden


This time of year, I like to re-post the series The War Poets. Just some of the men and women who served on the front line on all sides of the conflict who fought, died or returned scarred by their experiences.

They are going out at 4.a.m each morning my time, which is the coldest before the dawn, and as they would have woken in the trenches to prepare for another day of horror, bravery and sacrifice.

I would never glorify war – I see it as greed and a failure of diplomacy. Someone wants power, land, money, oil, mineral wealth etc and is unwilling to compromise or listen to reason and chooses to just take it. When diplomacy fails as it often does, those that are forced to defend their rights or territory turn to their young men and in modern times, women to fight the good fight. It never seems to end, which is why reminding ourselves from time to time about their sacrifice is both respectful and hopefully a thought provoking exercise.

As the war poet today describes – war does not end for those who have fought when a treaty has been signed; it will continue in their lives forever.

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Edmund Blunden was a poet, literary editor, journalist, biographer and lecturer, travelling and teaching in England, Japan and Hong Kong. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1966. He died in 1974 aged 78 having left behind an incredible legacy of work that in my mind is one of the most vivid recollections of the First World War.

He was studying Classics at Queen’s College Oxford but like so many of his age, he abandoned academic life in 1915 and joined the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment. He saw active service almost immediately at Givenchy and later at the Somme. He won the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action’ after a near suicidal mission under enemy shelling. From late 1916 he was with the regiment in Ypres until January 1918 when they returned to the Somme.

The two poems I have chosen are very different. The first At Sawnlees Once’ is poignant as it describes a brief moment of respite from the chaos. A barn on a farm where women are working and all appears normal. An oasis of crops and chickens and a simple barn where safety and a chance to forget the war for a few brief hours was so precious.

At Sawnlees Once

How comely it was and how reviving,
When with clay and with death no longer striving
Down firm roads we came to houses
With women chattering and green grass thriving.

Now though rains in a cataract descended,
We could glow, with our tribulation ended–
Count not days, the present only
Was thought of, how could it ever be expended?

Clad so cleanly, this remnant of poor wretches
Picked up life like the hens in orchard ditches,
Gazed on the mill-sails, heard the church-bell,
Found an honest glass all manner of riches.

How they crowded the barn with lusty laughter,
Hailed the Pierrots and shook each shadowy rafter,
Even could ridicule their own sufferings,
Sang as though nothing but joy came after!

The second poem ‘Can you Remember’ is after the war – not written until 1928 when it was only becoming clear the long term effect those devastating years had on the young men of all nations who fought and survived. It is clear that for the vast majority, the war did not end, but remained in their minds and hearts their whole lives.

Can You Remember?

Yes, I still remember
The whole thing in a way;
Edge and exactitude
Depend upon the day.

Of all that prodigious scene
There seems scanty loss,
Though mists mainly float and screen
Canal, spire and fosse;

Though commonly I fail to name
That once obvious Hill,
And where we went, and whence we came
To be killed, or kill.

Those mists are spiritual
And luminous-obscure,
Evolved of countless circumstance
Of which I am sure;

Of which, at the instance
Of sound, smell, change and stir,
New-old shapes for ever
Intensely recur.

And some are sparkling, laughing, singing,
Young, heroic, mild;
And some incurable, twisted,
Shrieking, dumb, defiled.

Buy Edmund Blunden: http://www.amazon.com/Edmund-Blunden/e/B001HPMRXA

 

Thank you for dropping in and your feedback is always welcome. Sally

Smorgasbord Christmas Posts from Your Archives – The Christmas Truce of 1914 by Mike of A Bit About Britain.


My grandfather served all through the First World War and was on the front line apart from time spent recovering from three wounds he received. He was killed on November 2nd 1918 when my mother was 13 months old in just inside the French border with Belgium. I know that he was home for the previous Christmas, and I can only imagine how wonderful that must have been.

Here is the background to the truce between the British and German soldiers in the first Christmas of the Great War.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 by Mike of A Bit About Britain.

Christmas Truce, 1914

Facsimile of the Daily Mail 31st December, 1914

In the dying moments of 1914 and the opening days of 1915, remarkable stories began to circulate in Britain’s newspapers. The stories came from France and Belgium, where great armies were locked in mighty conflict, and told of a truce between British and German soldiers. At this time of peace and goodwill, it was said that the guns had fallen silent on Christmas Eve, lights had appeared on the parapets of German trenches and the haunting melody of Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht drifted out over the frost-covered corpses and detritus of no-man’s land. There were cries of “Happy Christmas, Tommy! We won’t shoot if you don’t”. Men fraternised, traded plum puddings for cigars, swapped souvenirs, exchanged memories of home, buried their dead and even had a game of football. The story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 is a magical, wonderful, picture, with an almost mystical quality about it. The idea that ordinary men, in the midst of a terrible war, would simply forget fighting and instead seek friendship surely offers hope for the future; but what really happened?

Christmas Truce, Christmas at the front, Brodie helmet

The caption in the Daily Mail says: Soldiers cook Christmas geese on a makeshift  spit of rifles, poles and a spade, and enjoy their special meal in a shell hole that also holds a fallen comrade’s grave. Maybe…. Though experience of Christmas at the front varied. This could not have been 2014. The soldiers are wearing tin ‘Brodie’ helmets, not designed until 1915, and not used in significant numbers until the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

In 1914, after five months of fighting, the two sides had gone to ground. On the Western Front, the trenches stretched 450 miles from the English Channel to the Swiss Alps. It was stalemate; the war would not be over by Christmas, as many had all too optimistically predicted. In places, the opposing lines were in such close proximity that it was possible to not only hear the enemy clearly, but also smell their cooking. Both sides had a shared experience of savage conflict, as well as cold, wet and uncomfortable conditions. British General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien foresaw the danger of men adopting a ‘live and let live’ philosophy and sinking into a ‘military lethargy’. He ordered, “…friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices, however tempting and amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.”

In early December, Pope Benedict XV had proposed a 12-hour truce on Christmas Day. There were indications that the Germans would entertain the idea, but the Allied Governments were not keen to humour those they viewed as invaders and the suggestion came to nothing. In fact, the British launched attacks on sectors of the German lines on 14th, 18th and 19th December; all of them failed, with heavy casualties.

Chritmas 1914, Princess Mary Tin

 A Princess Mary Tin, with greeting card and tobacco (author’s collection)

The folks at home had not forgotten that Christmas was coming. Parcels and greetings arrived by the trainload from Germany and by the boatload from England. There were luxuries from loved ones – food, of course, and warm clothing – as well as official gifts.

The Kaiser sent his troops boxes of cigars in boxes inscribed Weinachten im Feld, 1914. German troops also received Christmas trees. British soldiers received a metal box from Princess Mary, daughter of King George V, containing a card and cigarettes, pipe tobacco or chocolate. The embossed box showed a portrait of the Princess and the names of Britain’s principal allies – France, Belgium, Japan, Russia, Montenegro and Servia (Serbia). Like all aspects of war, experience of Christmas 1914 varied depending on where people were, and their rank.

Captain Bryden McKinnel of the 10th (Scottish) Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment, mentions plum puddings being presented to the whole battalion, a hamper containing “green turtles, turkeys ready for eating and cigars for the officers”. He says, “The men had special rations of rum, bread and fresh meat.” Private Clifford Lane, of the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment, had a different experience: “And then we had what the English papers called Christmas Dinner. This consisted of cold bully beef and a cold lump of Christmas pudding; that was our Christmas dinner. The English newspapers said the British troops in the front line ‘enjoyed’ their Christmas dinner.”

Christmas Truce, Ploegsteert, 1914

British and German troops fraternise Christmas 2014 near Ploegstraat in Belgium (Known to the British as Plugstreet)

Similarly, accounts of the Christmas truce vary. According to one historian, Martin Gilbert, fraternisation took place almost everywhere along the British lines, at places in the French and Belgian lines, and it was almost always initiated by the Germans. Reports also suggest that Indian troops, fighting for the British, took part – though it seems unlikely that they would have been celebrating Christmas. The weather in December 1914, up to Christmas Eve, had been wet; after that, the temperature plummeted. One account suggests that cooperation occurred for very practical reasons between the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on the one hand, and the 134th Saxon Regiment on the other, when a nearby river flooded, forcing both sides out of their trenches. Many accounts tell variations of the tale summarised in the opening paragraph, above.

There are suggestions that Germans from Saxony and Bavaria were more likely to initiate contact than the more militaristic Prussians, that British officers ordered their men not to fraternise and then turned their backs. Many Germans had worked in Britain before the war and could speak perfect English. One asked Lieutenant John Wedderburn-Maxwell of the Royal Field Artillery to post a letter to his girlfriend in Manchester – which the British officer duly did. There are various reports of ad hoc football matches taking place. The opportunity to bury the dead, lying in no-man’s land after recent attacks, was taken and defences were repaired. In places, it is said the guns fell silent whilst 1914 slipped away. In others, fighting went on: military historian Chris Baker says that 98 British troops died on 24th December, many the victims of sniper fire, and 81 were killed on Christmas Day itself. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website reveals that 364 UK service personnel died in all sectors, including at home and on the sea, in those two days.

German pickelhaube, British grenade, shrapnel balls, rifle bullets, trench knife

Relics of war – German Pickelhaube, British Mills Bomb (Grenade) Shrapnel balls, .303 rifle bullets, trench knife (made from German Bayonet) (Author’s collection)

Whatever the truth of the Christmas Truce of 1914, what seems to have happened was not one, but several outbreaks of spontaneous humanity. It was undeniably the stuff of legend. However, to suggest, as some naïve pacifists have, that the Christmas Truce was a missed opportunity, if only everyone had mutinied and refused to pick up their rifles, is to be detached from reality. The troops were not organised and, in any event, were not of a mind to mutiny. Commanders on both sides ensured that any fraternisation ceased and that nothing quite like it ever happened again. There was no realistic prospect of peace for the New Year. The fighting continued for almost another 3 years, with hideous losses, until the very bitter end.

A hundred years on, the Christmas Truce was cynically exploited by Sainsbury’s Supermarket (in partnership with the Royal British Legion) in the form of a Christmas TV advert – albeit it is a beautifully produced one as you might see. The Football Association in partnership with the British Council produced a pack aimed at young schoolchildren, exaggerating the football angle of the story. More memorably, Britain commenced its commemoration of the centenary of the First World War as a whole with its now world-famous poppy installation at the Tower of London. ‘Bloodswept lands and seas of red’, by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, consisted of 888,426 ceramic poppies, each one representing a British or Commonwealth life lost. Each poppy of course also represented a family mourning the individual: parents, siblings, wives, lovers – children. It was an astonishingly effective way of driving home the numbers – part of the roughly 16 million people that perished worldwide – far more vividly than statistics on a page ever can.

Bloodswept lands and seas of red, poppies at the Tower

Views of bloodswept lands and seas of red at the Tower of London 2014.

The Christmas Truce was a real event – or several real events – although we’ll never know the full details and extent of it. A repeat of the Christmas Truce is unlikely, and for one very positive reason – the prospect of war between the old foes, and all states that share a common cultural heritage, is now so improbable as to be unthinkable. When bemoaning the current state of humanity, surely we can congratulate ourselves on this, one of the great achievements of the last one hundred years?

Of course, and unfortunately, war is not over. Another reason why a re-run of the spontaneous seasonal goodwill is doubtful is that Britain’s enemies do not believe in Christmas. They certainly do not believe in peace and goodwill to all men, irrespective of race, religion or creed. So, whilst acknowledging the imperfections in our own society, here’s a New Year’s resolution for civilised people of all cultures: defeat and educate those who may be described, at best, as ‘culturally retarded’ when it comes to humanity. It’s a significant task for the next century.

Christmas Truce, Ploegsteert, Plugstreet

The site of a Christmas Truce in 1914, near Ploegstraat Wood.

©A Bit About Britain 2014

My thanks for Mike for the background and facts behind this event over 100 years ago.  This is a time when we think of peace and goodwill to all men, but we need to remember, that for hundreds of thousands around the world, the conflict does not stop.

About Mike from A Bit About Britain.

A Bit About Britain is a personal, independent, project that seeks to inspire, inform and entertain. I want it to be a portal into Britain’s heritage and attractions, aimed at armchair travellers as well as those seeking practical ideas and information. I make no apology for the strong heritage bias; today’s Britain has been forged by its past – and it’s a fascinating one.

Read more about Mike and the blog: http://bitaboutbritain.com/about/

Connect to Mike on social media.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bitaboutbritain/
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/bitaboutbritain
Google + : https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/114733962672855199913/114733962672855199913
Pinteresthttps://www.pinterest.co.uk/bit1032/

My thanks to Mike for his series of fascinating posts on Christmas and its traditions, and look forward to more in the general series that begins again in January.

Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New on the Shelves – Tan: A Story of Exile, Betrayal and Revenge by David Lawlor


A warm welcome to David Lawlor and his book Tan: A Story of Exile, Betrayal and Revenge which is the first book in the Liam Mannion Story.

About Tan

‘Peelers have a knack for hitting you where it hurts; broken nose, bruised ribs, a few loosened teeth…no more than a rapist deserved, Sergeant Coveney and District Inspector Webber had said. Proper order, too – except the lad was no rapist, and Webber knew it.’

It’s 1914 and Liam Mannion is forced into exile for a crime he didn’t commit. He flees Balbriggan, the only home he has ever known and travels to England, where he enlists and endures the torment of trench warfare in France. Five years later he’s back in England, a changed man, living in the shadow of his battlefield memories. Liam finds work in a Manchester cotton mill but prejudice and illness soon see him destitute. Starving and desperate, he enlists in a new military force heading to Ireland – the Black and Tans – and is posted to the very town he fled as a youth.

While he has been away Liam’s childhood friends have joined the republican cause, while his brother has allied himself to the Crown forces. Liam must wrestle with his own conflicted feelings about duty to the ruthless Tans and loyalty to his friends. The potent combination of ambition, patriotism and betrayal collide, forcing him to act as he comes face to face with the man who spread lies about him all those years before.

One of the excellent reviews for Tan

An author faces a monumental task when writing historical fiction. If one historical fact is wrong or an anachronism appears, the reader is likely to put aside the book in favor of one that achieves historical accuracy tempered with believable dialogue, heightened tension, and sympathetic, yet flawed, heroes.

If you are a reader of historical fiction who requires accuracy, suspense, and flawed, yet heroic main characters, then I suggest you read Tan – A Story of Exile, Betrayal and Revenge by David Lawlor.

Set in England and then Ireland in the year after the end of World War I, Tan explores war from a closer view immediately following Liam Mannion’s release from the English Army in 1919. Here’s a guy forced to leave Ireland at a young age because of an act he witnessed after a night of drinking at a friend’s wedding. It’s here where the conflict of the story begins when the evil Webber blames and accuses the young Liam of an indecent act against a virtuous married woman. Webber’s fiction that forces Liam into exile begins a whole series of events that mark Liam for life.

Liam heads to England in 1914 and ends up in the English army fighting in France during the majority of World War I.

When Liam eventually heads back to England after the horrid and putrid rot of dead bodies that made up his memory of the war, he ends up in an insufferable situation which leads him to homelessness, and then worse, as an officer of the crown as a member of the powerful and often repressive Black and Tan. Liam turns a blind eye to the atrocious behavior of his English comrades, only until it becomes evident that his loyalty to the Black and Tan extracts too high of a rent for clean clothes and warm bowl of soup.

Lawlor captures the uncertainty of the times through the examination of Liam’s uncertain future as he’s thrust into situations beyond his control. Precise and graphic descriptions of life in England and Ireland post-World War I show that despite the end of a tragic war on the mainland of Europe, Ireland faced an even greater war at home with the invasion and intrusion of the Tans.

I fell in love with Lawlor’s descriptions of the setting in Tan as I lost myself in the world of the Irish fighting for their lives and their homeland. Here’s an example of Lawlor’s powerful descriptive talent:

“They leaned against the viaduct’s promenade rail, looking out on their hometown, watching the slow huff of a steam engine as it trundled into the station, the smell of the sea mingling with the coke from Cumisky’s coal yard beneath them.”

It’s filled with contrast and detail that employ the senses to show the reader that the situation and the setting are both beautiful and polluted.

Tan is both tender and violent as the reader is drawn into the abyss of angry revenge and the love and loyalty of friends and family. It also shows that being born into a family does not guarantee such loyalty. The character of the individual breeds the kind of loyalty that would take a bullet and shoot a bullet to protect and exact revenge.

I highly recommend Tan if you like to lose yourself into another world in the past of one hundred years ago on the soil of Ireland, bloodied from wars and stained with tears.

Read all the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Tan-Story-Betrayal-Revenge-Mannion-ebook/dp/B00BFD4JF8

Read more reviews on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tan-Story-Betrayal-Revenge-Mannion-ebook/dp/B00BFD4JF8/

Also by David Lawlor

Read all the reviews for the series: https://www.amazon.com/David-Lawlor/e/B00E3T1EWW

and Amazon UK : https://www.amazon.co.uk/David-Lawlor/e/B00E3T1EWW

Read more reviews and follow David Lawlor on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7059828.David_Lawlor

About David Lawlor

David Lawlor has been a journalist for over 20 years. He has written four historical fiction novels, Tan, The Golden Grave and A Time of Traitors, set in the 1920s during the Irish War of Independence and following the character Liam Mannion.

David is also a book editor – copy and content editing.

He lives in Wicklow, Ireland, with his wife and four children.

Connect to David

Website/Blog: https://historywithatwist.wordpress.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LawlorDavid

Thank you for dropping by today and I hope that you will explore David’s books and his blog. Thanks Sally

If you have time please visit the Cafe and Bookstore and browse the shelves. There are over 200 authors with about 600 books that you might enjoy.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/sallys-cafe-and-bookstore/

Smorgasbord Poetry – Requiem for a Grandfather by Sally Cronin

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I wrote verses from a very early age and filled books with them. Then I moved onto short stories; only rarely written anything but the occasional haiku. However, I am revisiting my scribbles and reworking some that go back nearly 50 years.

This one is a little more recent and is the poem that I wrote following my first visit to my grandfather’s grave in Northern France in 1998.

My mother was thirteen months old when her father was killed on November 2nd 1918. He was 31 years old and had been home for her birth following his third wound of the war since joining up in 1914. He had received this latest one when rescuing one of his officers from the front line. He received the Military Medal for his bravery.

He returned to the front when Mollie was six months old.  Her mother told her stories about him and that is the only thing that she could pass on as the few photographs she had were lost. The location of his grave in a small village of Poix du Nord in Northern France was only discovered by my sister Diana in the early 1990s and she and her husband took my mother shortly afterwards.

We visited again with my mother in 1998 when we were living about 70 kilometres away in Brussels. Standing there 80 years after his death it felt very emotional to imagine that this young man, Herbert James Francis Walsh, had died  so young but had still managed to  pass on his genes to those of us standing by his graveside, and since then to two more generations.

REQUIEM FOR A GRANDFATHER By Sally Cronin

I know you through my mother’s words
Even though she was so small when you left.
Her mother told her of your life
And how your sacrifice left her bereft.

Born back in Victoria’s reign
An Irishman, black haired, tall smiling bright
You courted a builder’s daughter
It was love for both of you at first sight.

Came war and you were first in line
To stand and fight for your adopted land.
How proud you looked so tall and strong
As you marched to the docks, kit bag in hand.

A soldier and a hero too
You never once turned your back on duty.
But returned time and time again
Horror muted by a new born beauty.

When the remaining few came home
To parades, loved ones and welcoming arms.
You stayed behind to guard your men
As they lay amid the burnt out French farms.

Today you lie in foreign soil
Tended by strangers who honour your name.
But you also live here in hearts
And a young child’s face whose smile is the same.

Your brief life carries on in us
And on and on through generations strong.
So even far in the future
A child with your blue eyes will read this song.

©sallycronin1997

I hope to post a poem a week but you are very welcome to send either a link to your own poetry or share one here with the story that inspired it.. my email is sally.cronin@moyhill.com

Smorgasbord 2016 in review -The Sunday Living History Interview – Percy Francis, Royal Flying Corps -Grandfather of Geoff and Gordon Le Pard


Living History

This interview was the highest viewed Living History interview and it began the series in great style.

My first guests today are author Geoff Le Pard and his brother Gordon and the story about their grandfather Percy Francis.

artefact-joan-of-arc

In a display cabinet, a few feet from where I am sitting is a small porcelain statue of Joan of Arc. Whilst it is over one hundred years old, it is of no particular value, especially as the head has, at some time, been knocked off and crudely stuck back on. But it has been treasured in our family for many years – and this is her story.

percy-francis-officer-perhaps-before-graduationPercy Francis was fascinated by flying. Today it would not be unusual, but this was 1911. Powered flight was only a few years old and the primitive machines that clawed their way into the sky were incredibly dangerous. But Percy loved it. By 1911 he was by his own account ‘involved in aeronautical research’, and in 1912 he was an official of the London Aero Club helping to run the first London Air Show.

Forward two years and when war was declared he naturally wanted to join the embryonic Royal Flying Corps. However hardly anybody had any idea of what aircraft could do in war and he was told to wait. But all his friends were joining up so he decided to join the army anyway. When one friend bet him he would never wear a kilt, he joined the Seaforth Highlanders – one of the ‘Ladies from hell’ as the Germans were to call them.

percy-francis-seaforth-highlander-1By November 1914 he was in France and, during the cold winter of 1914-15 he turned his ingenuity to making underwear – as the uniform didn’t include any to wear under the kilt. This was perhaps his only failure. More successful was the film projector he found, and for many month he ran the ‘Only Cinema at the Front’, as it was called on the posters. French films could easily be played as, in the days of silent film, all you needed was someone to translate the titles when they appeared.

cinema-posterIn the spring of 1915 the Seaforth’s were one of the regiments involved in the battle of Neuve Chapelle, one of the first big trench battles of the war. The regiment played a particularly gallant part, so they commissioned a war artist, Joseph Gray, to depict the scene when the Seaforth’s advanced. Percy was chosen to be the model for all the soldiers depicted, walking, shooting, shouting encouragement. We still possess a sketch of Percy, the highland soldier, that Joseph Gray gave him, and he is recognisable at least four times in the finished paintings!

(c) The Highlanders' Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) The Highlanders’ Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

joseph-grayTowards the end of that year he took part in intelligence gathering, creeping out after dark into no man’s land to map German positions, the compass he used lives in my study.

artefacts-compass-and-binoculars-2

For one particularly hazardous expedition he was offered the choice between a military medal or immediate commission, he chose the latter and became Lieutenant Percy Francis. He didn’t remain long as an officer in the trenches but rapidly managed to get transferred to where he had long wanted to be – the Royal Flying Corps.

artefact-flying-helmet-1It was while he was back in England, doing his pilot training (he didn’t need to learn to fly, but rather become acquainted with the military aircraft of the day), that he was arrested as a spy. Officers didn’t need to wear uniform when not on duty and he was sitting in a London park reading a magazine. He had fair hair, close cropped to fit under his flying helmet, and someone thought he looked German. A crowd gathered and a policeman had to take him into protective custody.

leave-fishing-party-brendon

Back in France he joined his squadron, whose job was mapping enemy positions. Flying low and slow over the trenches, whilst the observer took photographs. The average life span of a pilot in those days was thirteen weeks; he did it for over eighteen months. He was never shot down – he seemed to have regarded the enemy as a minor irritation and the aircraft he was flying were much more dangerous.

He was right, in early 1918 he was going home on leave and was offered the choice between taking the troop ship home or flying a plane back to England. He naturally chose the latter and set off across the Channel. Then the fog came down.

For three days there was no news, it was assumed that his aircraft had been lost at sea, then a gamekeeper walking on the cliffs near Dover found the crashed aircraft. Though he was badly injured, Percy made a full recovery.

convalescing-larking-around
Much to his irritation the Army wouldn’t pass him fit for flying, but gave him another promotion and a desk job, and so he survived the war. He went on to race at Brooklands,

percy-in-3-wheelerand fly with his friend Geoffrey De Havilland and design a Flying Bicycle!

Percy received one or two speeding tickets including this one for exceeding ten miles per hour.

speeding-ticket-percy-francis-a

But what, you will be asking yourself if you remember the beginning of this tale, has Joan of Arc got to do with it all. Shortly after arriving in France, Percy found the statue of St. Joan in a shelled church. He repaired it and took it with him wherever he went as a good luck charm. As you may have realised his career in the war, from ordinary soldier at the front – to officer at the front – to officer in the Royal Flying Corps, took him into more and more dangerous situations.

In protecting our grandfather, Percy Francis, St. Joan worked overtime.

artefact-raf-badgeMy thanks to Geoff and to Gordon for kicking off this new series in such style.. Percy sounds like a wonderful character and I would have loved to have met and heard his story first hand.
About Geoff Le Pard

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Geoff Le Pard (not Geoffrey, except to his mother) was born in 1956 and is a lawyer who saw the light. He started writing (creatively) in 2006 following a summer school course. Being a course junkie he had spells at Birkbeck College, twice at Arvon and most recently at Sheffield Hallam where he achieved an MA in Creative Writing.

And what did he learn?

That they are great fun, you meet wonderful people but the best lessons come from the unexpected places. He has a line of books waiting to be published but it has taken until now to find the courage to go live.

He blogs at http://geofflepard.com/ on anything and everything. His aim is for each novel to be in a different style and genre. Most people have been nice about his writing (though when his brother’s dog peed on the manuscript he was editing, he did wonder) but he knows the skill is in seeking and accepting criticism. His career in the law has helped prepare him.

Geoff’s latest book Salisbury Square.

41hfyznkozl-_uy250_Jerzy Komaza is adept at turning a blind eye. He has allowed his father’s beatings of his sister, Maria, to continue for years. Yet one hot summer day he finally snaps, and it is Maria who sends him away from their home in Białystok in rural Poland, fearing the consequences if he stays. Desperate and unsure, Jerzy heads for London where his old friend Jan has promised him work.

At first he is completely disorientated. Worse, there’s no sign of Jan. Feeling lost and adrift in the strange city, Jerzy overhears a young woman’s cries. Memories of his sister stir him into action and he intervenes.

The woman is Suzie Thomas, a drug addict dependent on local thug Paul Rogers for her supplies and for whom she turns tricks. Rogers also runs gangs of workmen around the city, and Jan works for him. Gradually Jerzy is dragged into Suzie’s world, a violent dog-eat-dog existence of the underclass living next to but separate from London’s affluent citizens.

Jan has his own problems with Rogers, and when his cousin Ola Nowak is slashed with a knife while trying to sort out Jan’s debt, he is bent on revenge. Jerzy is torn between stopping his friend and, because of his own growing hatred of Rogers’ casual violence towards Suzie, helping him.

Suzie’s family are hunting for her. Her grandparents hear she has moved to London and seek her out. In doing so they too find themselves pulled into Rogers’ orbit. As the heat builds and the rain pours down, various forces begin to drag these desperate individuals together into a violent confrontation. And into this mix comes Lech Komoza, Jerzy’s half-brother intent on his own violent retribution.

This story contains elements of revenge, love, the clash of classes and cultures, the isolation of large cities and the single-minded determination to survive. Set against a backdrop of one of the most affluent cities in the Western world, it is a modern parable about the lure of redemption and how hope can be corrupted by despair.

Also by Geoff Le Pard

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Buy all Geoff’s books

https://www.amazon.com/Geoff-Le-Pard/e/B00OSI7XA0

Connect with Geoff

Blog: http://geofflepard.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/geofflepard
Google+ : https://plus.google.com/+GeoffLepard01/posts

About Gordon Le Pard

I am a retired archaeologist, who used to work for Dorset County County, where I mapped the wrecks off the coast. A maritime archaeologist who cannot swim is unusual, but there.

I have written a great deal, on many diverse topics, from the works of an arts and crafts artist, to a fossilised beaver, from early aerial photographs to medieval sundials (the last my father considered the most boring think I had ever written).

I read a great deal, and remember a heck of a lot, this actually has a downside, if you have difficulty in forgetting! For example I will often check the end of a story to make sure it ends happily, who wants a miserable story running about in your head for the next decade or so.

My wife and I are reenactors, Regency or Victorian, and I will try most of the odd things I reconstruct. I have limits, but not many!

If you head over to Gordon’s blog you will find some fascinating articles and one in particular took my fancy. https://gordonlepard.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/going-for-a-dip-dressed-or-undressed/

With our weather in the UK and Ireland I am very tempted to resort to the bathing attire of the bathers of the previous centuries… but were some of them actually naked in our frozen coastal waters?

Connect to Gordon

Blog: https://gordonlepard.wordpress.com

If you have a story to tell about your family history or events that you feel have impacted your life, you will find details in this post. Along with other ways you can promote your blog and other creative work.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/free-blog-and-book-promotions/

Thanks for joining us today and your feedback would be very much appreciated and also if you could hit a few share buttons on your way out that would be amazing.  Thanks from all of us.. Percy, Geoff and Gordon..

Sally

Smorgasbord Short Story – A Soldier Waits – Sally Cronin


 

A Soldier Waits – Sally Cronin

David stood beside his comrades as they waited in the village square for the parade to begin. Despite their advancing years, the men stood as tall as possible, often with the aid of a stick. Two of their number were in wheelchairs, and had been guided across the cobble stones by their fellow old soldiers.

It was a typical chilly November morning with dark skies and clouds laden with imminent rain. Whilst inappropriate perhaps for this solemn occasion, the men standing huddled against the cold wind; wished for a few rays of sunshine. Their overcoats were shiny with age but their shoes were burnished to a brilliance thanks to the loving attention the night before. A reminder of a time, when the action of rubbing in polish and then shining the boots for the sergeant’s approval, was used for reflection. A time to remember all the nights many years ago, when comrades would sit on camp beds talking quietly as they prepared their kit for inspection and parades.

Beribboned pins, holding silver and bronze medals, lay proudly against the material on their chests and nobody really noticed the frayed cuffs that peeked out from the sleeves of the worn coats. Their pride was clear to see by all who passed; many of whom smiled in recognition or tipped a hat. They were the old soldiers and heroes of the village and despite their dwindling numbers were respected and honoured. Not just today, but every time they were met in the shops and lanes of this small community that had given up so many of its young men to war.

David didn’t feel the cold and felt content to be part of the camaraderie and fellowship of being amongst those he had served with. He caught little snippets of conversation as he stood, head bowed waiting for the order to form into the parade.

‘My Elsie has had another grandson… Who would have thought it…? I’m a great granddad….’

‘That new doctor looks like he’s just left school… Told me that I had something called heemaroids… Used to call them bloody piles in my day…’

‘I’m sorry that Jack didn’t make it this year… Miss the old codger… We will have to find a replacement for the cribbage night…’

David smiled as he listened to his friends talking about their lives and raised his head as he heard the sound of the local brass band strike up.

He had been part of this ceremony for the last fifty years since the squire had erected the memorial in the centre of the village. Lord Roberts was a good man and had been devastated by the loss of his own son in the last few weeks of the war. Out of respect and loyalty to those other families in the village and surrounding area who had lost fathers, husbands and sons, he had paid for the monument himself.

That first November as the group of survivors had stood in the rain to commemorate the loss of their brothers and friends, many had still relied on crutches, and as today, one or two had been in wheelchairs. It was a far cry from the day that they had stood in this same square waiting for the horse drawn carriages to take them off to basic training.

The call had come, and from the surrounding farms and isolated cottages, men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight, who were not exempt because of occupation, health or marital status, walked proudly into the recruitment centre in the village hall. David was just nineteen when war was declared and was swept along by the patriotic message and fervour that swept the nation. There was talk down the pub of places outside of their small community that might be visited.

‘Blimey, a chance to see the other side of the hill lads…’ and ‘Do you think those French girls are as friendly as they say?’

The thought of glory and adventure had been foremost in their young minds. It certainly did not hurt that the girls in the village became very attentive when they arrived back for leave after basic training in their uniforms. The day that they had formed up into a parade to march to the square and climb aboard the transports was frozen in time. Mothers weeping as they clung to their sons and fathers slapping them on the back and proudly straightening their caps. Couples embracing for one last kiss and whispered words of love.

It had been very different when David returned to the village a year later. Although now only twenty he felt that he had aged a lifetime. As he stepped down from the train in the nearby town, carefully favouring his injured right arm and struggling with his kitbag, it was without glory. The sight of his parents waiting from him in the evening sunlight had reduced him to tears and as the horse and cart made its way to the farm; his mother had held him tightly as he sobbed against her best coat.

Over those first few days of calm and peace; David had spent hours alone walking the fields and hills desperately trying to find any meaning behind the senseless carnage and sacrifice he had experienced. He knew that once his injury was fully healed he would have to return and the thought of this kept him awake at night in his room in the rafters of the farmhouse.

Then one day, as the sun shone as he helped his father harvest the wheat, he saw his mother heading towards them swinging a laden lunch basket. Beside her with golden hair that gleamed in the sunlight was a tall and very beautiful young woman.

‘Here you go pet,’ his mother handed off the basket to David. ‘You remember Cathy from the Black’s farm don’t you?’

David looked into bright blue eyes and was then drawn down to the perfectly formed red lips that smiled at him.

Six weeks later they were married in the village church and had walked out into the sunshine to a guard of honour of fellow soldiers home on leave or who had been injured. The reception in the hall in the square had been packed with well-wishers and David and Cathy had danced and celebrated until midnight. Then they had slipped away unnoticed to their room above the pub.

Every year since the memorial was erected David had marched with his comrades and then stood with them as wreaths were laid around the base. And each year his breath would catch in his chest and his heart would skip a beat as he watched his Cathy carry a wreath and lay it amongst the rest. That first year she had also held the hand of a little girl, his daughter who unlike all others somberly dressed, was wearing a beautiful handmade coat of blue. His favourite colour.

He had watched Cathy and his daughter every year since then as they would both walk proudly to the memorial and lay their tribute. But this year his daughter walked with another by her side and there was no sign of his darling wife. He slipped through the ranks of his comrades until he was standing in the front row. He could hear his daughter saying something to the tall young man by her side.

‘You lay the wreath David; your grandmother wanted you to do it for her this year.’

The lad reverently laid it down amongst the others and he stood back by his mother’s side. Together they turned and walked solemnly back towards the waiting villagers where they were greeted with hugs and the boy was patted on the back.

A tear rolled down David’s face with sorrow at the loss of his beautiful Cathy. As he stood bereft at the front of his silent comrades at attention, but with their heads bowed, the clouds parted and rays of sunshine spread across the square. As they did so, his eyes were drawn to a young woman with golden hair and blue eyes who walked over the cobbles to stand by his side. She slipped her cool hand into his and he smiled down at her with joy.

Unseen by all those who had gathered to remember him and all the others who had not returned; they slipped away hand in hand. The long wait for them both was over.

©sallycronin 2014

L/Corporal Herbert James Francis Walsh – 1887 – 1918 – A 102 year tribute – A Poem “Tommy”.


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

Remembrance and Veterans Day – For those who died and those that returned.


For millions around the world November 11th is a time to remember those who have not returned from global conflict. Fathers, brothers, husbands who gave their lives. Most of our families have been touched in some way by this devastating loss. My own grandfather died on November 2nd 1918 leaving behind a little girl of 11 months old that never knew her father.

The fact is our world is in constant conflict all the time somewhere. Young men and women from many nations are still putting their lives on the line, and whilst we all mourn the loss of life that results from these international disputes; there is little publicity about those that return wounded in body and mind.

Today is also a time to remember those who returned from conflict, changed physically, mentally and emotionally.

I was honoured to interview one such man for my television company. Mark Ormrod is a Royal Marine who lost both legs and an arm in Afghanistan and he is an absolute inspiration. Here is Mark talking about the events leading up to this catastrophic event in a video for the charity Blesma

Mark wrote a book about the events that changed his life forever.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Down-Marine-Mark-Ormrod/dp/0552159492

However, for many of those who have been severely wounded in war,  experiences on their return can be desperate. Mark describes these extremely difficult challenges in a recent interview in The Standard.

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/royal-marine-who-lost-three-limbs-in-afghanistan-mark-ormrod-i-have-to-beg-borrow-and-steal-for-the-a2820696.html

The charity Blesma is specifically for those service men and women who have lost limbs and you can find out more details here. https://blesma.org/ They raise funds to ensure that those who have to face a lifetime of disability receive the best possible treatment and equipment needed to lead their lives as normally as they can.

There are other charities who work on behalf of service personnel on their return and here are some in both the UK, United States and Australia and if you are considering donating to charity then you might consider these and others, as they are all worthy recipients. There are also some organisations that work with the families of those in the armed services and they do very important work particularly with the children who like my mother have been left without a father or mother.

UK: https://blesma.org/about-blesma/mission-statement/
UK:http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk
UK: http://www.scottyslittlesoldiers.co.uk/
United States: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
Australia: http://www.defencecare.org.au/about

I would like to think that those who did not return are in a better place and that they are looking down on the millions of their descendants who remember them today. And being Irish I am sure that my grandfather enjoyed a good song as I hear he was a bit of a ‘lad’ back in the day! Later today in the Wednesday music spot I will be sharing some of the songs that kept the spirits up of those on the front line.

My mother was 95 when she died and one of the conversations we had in the months leading up to her death was about her father and how she hoped she would now get to meet him in person for the first time.

sally wedding day 1980In honour of all those who did not return from all nations during both World Wars and since. Particularly for Corporal Herbert Francis Walsh REME: 1887 – November 2nd 2018 – Military Medal 1916.

Here is the Last Post including the two-minute silence at the Royal British Legion Service.

Thanks for joining me here today…Sally

What’s in a Name – ‘D’ for David – Beloved.


The boy’s name David is likely to be derived from the Hebrew meaning ‘beloved’. David was the second king of Israel and legend has it that he defeated Goliath the giant Philistine with a simple sling at a young age. The name has been used commonly since the Middle Ages and Saint David is the patron saint of Wales.

poppy

What’s in a Name ‘D’ for David – Beloved.

David stood beside his comrades as they waited in the village square for the parade to begin. Despite their advancing years, the men stood as tall as possible, often with the aid of a stick. Two of their number were in wheelchairs, and had been guided across the cobble stones by their fellow old soldiers.

It was a typical chilly November morning with dark skies and clouds laden with imminent rain. Whilst inappropriate perhaps for this solemn occasion, the men standing huddled against the cold wind; wished for a few rays of sunshine. Their overcoats were shiny with age but their shoes were burnished to a brilliance thanks to the loving attention the night before. A reminder of a time, when the action of rubbing in polish and then shining the boots for the sergeant’s approval, was used for reflection. A time to remember all the nights many years ago, when comrades would sit on camp beds talking quietly as they prepared their kit for inspection and parades.

Beribboned pins, holding silver and bronze medals, lay proudly against the material on their chests and nobody really noticed the frayed cuffs that peeked out from the sleeves of the worn coats. Their pride was clear to see by all who passed; many of whom smiled in recognition or tipped a hat. They were the old soldiers and heroes of the village and despite their dwindling numbers were respected and honoured. Not just today, but every time they were met in the shops and lanes of this small community that had given up so many of its young men to war.

David did not feel the cold and felt content to be part of the camaraderie and fellowship of being amongst those he had served with. He caught little snippets of conversation as he stood, head bowed waiting for the order to form into the parade.

‘My Elsie has had another grandson… Who would have thought it…? I’m a great granddad….’

‘That new doctor looks like he’s just left school… Told me that I had something called heemaroids… Used to call them bloody piles in my day…’

‘I’m sorry that Jack didn’t make it this year… Miss the old codger… We will have to find a replacement for the cribbage night…’

David smiled as he listened to his friends talking about their lives and raised his head as he heard the sound of the local brass band strike up.

He had been part of this ceremony for the last fifty years since the squire had erected the memorial in the centre of the village. Lord Roberts was a good man and had been devastated by the loss of his own son in the last few weeks of the war. Out of respect and loyalty to those other families in the village and surrounding area who had lost fathers, husbands and sons, he had paid for the monument himself.

That first November as the group of survivors had stood in the rain to commemorate the loss of their brothers and friends, many had still relied on crutches, and as today, one or two had been in wheelchairs. It was a far cry from the day that they had stood in this same square waiting for the horse drawn carriages to take them off to basic training.

The call had come, and from the surrounding farms and isolated cottages, men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight, who were not exempt because of occupation, health or marital status, walked proudly into the recruitment centre in the village hall. David was just nineteen when war was declared and was swept along by the patriotic message and fervour that swept the nation. There was talk down the pub of places outside of their small community that might be visited.

‘Blimey, a chance to see the other side of the hill lads…’ and ‘Do you think those French girls are as friendly as they say?’

The thought of glory and adventure had been foremost in their young minds. It certainly did not hurt that the girls in the village became very attentive when they arrived back for leave after basic training in their uniforms. The day that they had formed up into a parade to march to the square and climb aboard the transports was frozen in time. Mothers weeping as they clung to their sons and fathers slapping them on the back and proudly straightening their caps. Couples embracing for one last kiss and whispered words of love.

It had been very different when David returned to the village a year later. Although now only twenty he felt that he had aged a lifetime. As he stepped down from the train in the nearby town, carefully favouring his injured right arm and struggling with his kitbag, it was without glory. The sight of his parents waiting from him in the evening sunlight had reduced him to tears and as the horse and cart made its way to the farm; his mother had held him tightly as he sobbed against her best coat.

Over those first few days of calm and peace; David had spent hours alone walking the fields and hills desperately trying to find any meaning behind the senseless carnage and sacrifice he had experienced. He knew that once his injury was fully healed he would have to return and the thought of this kept him awake at night in his room in the rafters of the farmhouse.

Then one day, as the sun shone as he helped his father harvest the wheat, he saw his mother heading towards them swinging a laden lunch basket. Beside her with golden hair that gleamed in the sunlight was a tall and very beautiful young woman.

‘Here you go pet,’ his mother handed off the basket to David. ‘You remember Cathy from the Black’s farm don’t you?’

David looked into bright blue eyes and was then drawn down to the perfectly formed red lips that smiled at him.

Six weeks later they were married in the village church and had walked out into the sunshine to a guard of honour of fellow soldiers home on leave or who had been injured. The reception in the hall in the square had been packed with well-wishers and David and Cathy had danced and celebrated until midnight. Then they had slipped away unnoticed to their room above the pub.

Every year since the memorial was erected David had marched with his comrades and then stood with them as wreaths were laid around the base. And each year his breath would catch in his chest and his heart would skip a beat as he watched his Cathy carry a wreath and lay it amongst the rest. That first year she had also held the hand of a little girl, his daughter who unlike all others somberly dressed, was wearing a beautiful handmade coat of blue. His favourite colour.

He had watched Cathy and his daughter every year since then as they would both walk proudly to the memorial and lay their tribute. But this year his daughter walked with another by her side and there was no sign of his darling wife. He slipped through the ranks of his comrades until he was standing in the front row. He could hear his daughter saying something to the tall young man by her side.

‘You lay the wreath David; your grandmother wanted you to do this for her this year.’

The lad reverently laid it down amongst the others and he stood back by his mother’s side. Together they turned and walked solemnly back towards the waiting villagers where they were greeted with hugs and the boy was patted on the back.

A tear rolled down David’s face with sorrow at the loss of his beautiful Cathy. As he stood bereft at the front of his silent comrades at attention but with their heads bowed, the clouds parted and rays of sunshine spread across the square. As they did so, his eyes were drawn to a young woman with golden hair and blue eyes who walked over the cobbles to stand by his side. She slipped her cool hand into his and he smiled down at her with joy.

Unseen by all those who had gathered to remember him and all the others who had not returned; they slipped away hand in hand. The long wait for them both was over.

The previous stories can be found in this directory.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/whats-in-a-name-short-stories/

©sallygeorginacronin What’s in a Name