On the 95th Anniversary of Armistice Day
They are focused on an interior landscape. The barrel of the lens will reach far into the future, capturing a moment in time more powerfully than any modern app. He sports a soldier's uniform, a ranked officer in the King's Royal Rifle Corps, standing a little aloof from his young wife, as resigned to duty now he is recalled to his own fireside as he was in the trenches of Ypres. Owing to injury, he's been drafted into the Corps of Military Accountants. In April, 1915, he was gassed with chlorine. One of the lucky ones. It took the company unawares as it drifted over the Flanders fields one daybreak in a nicely-judged wind, benign as ectoplasm, amid the whining blasts of shot and shell. Everything turned green in its path, metal, cloth, skin. Scores of them staggered and fell. Harrowed, harrowing. They slumped into the rat-infested mire, writhing in agony, choking with acid nausea, their lungs seared, their innards turned to fire in a spectacle reminiscent of those medieval depictions of the spheres of hell. Surely this was Armageddon, as foretold. Comrades in arms, here today, gone tomorrow. One taken, one left. Except that many were taken and only a few are left to bottle the abomination so that rising generations may enjoy peace and freedom. Men of his stamp will not speak of what they have seen. They will be wary of bitter winters, mind their diet and not complain of sensitivity to ulceration. They will not explain the nightmares, nor why they sometimes have to retire from the scene when lucid memories are triggered and they are plunged into a terrifying parallel reality. Even Guy Fawkes Night taxes the mettle.
No, he will never speak of it. Braced with youthful idealism, his wife and homeland are what he set out so loyally to defend. He bites at the ankle those rearing thoughts which protest domestic routines are an irrelevance now he knows mankind is capable of Lucifer's hubris in wanting to be God. He will adapt, keep a stiff upper lip, but will tread a lonely path through the decades of the twentieth century, unable to communicate the truth that it is better not to go there, better not to tempt fate, better to husband the gift of life and the cornucopia on your own patch. If only he could tell that to the enemy!
is seated on his right, looking askance, swaddled in rigorous
Edwardian attire with a joyful posy in her hat. George V has wrestled
his dominions from the Hun, but the stunned world, embattled for four
years, has not moved on. The long Victorian era still presides over the
affairs of hearth and nation. She dandles a two year old infant on
her lap, the first of four children, plus one adopted.
Eventually, these will disperse to various points of the compass. War
confers a sense of the global village, of common human destiny, and
that allies are not always to be found in the next street. One of
their sons will have his Halifax Bomber shot down over Brandenburg during the next outbreak
of hostilities. He will be captured and become a POW in Stalag Luft
III exactly one month before the Great Escape in which, thankfully,
he has no part.
But their first child, a little girl, was begotten against the horrors of the front line. They have called her Eva because this is 'the war to end all wars'. A new age hovers over the horizon. The world reborn. New beginnings. Her mother's mouth faintly quirks with whimsy. She has a secret. She is expecting another child. But she will not tell him yet. It's women's business. In fact, she will not consult her doctor for several months. Nature's affairs are all in a day's work. But she knows for sure. The halted cycles, the way the blood fizzes around the sinuses and scent and colour are subtly altered.
“Don't smell the poppies, Bessie,” her mother used to say as they strolled the Dorset lanes together when she was small. “They'll likely give you a headache.”