November is upon us once again, when we are prompted to remember the men and women who gave their lives in foreign wars, but with the assistance of the media and the symbolism of the poppy that grew in abundance in the fields of Flanders once the mud had ceased being churned by a million boots, somehow we still seem to focus on the Great War of 1914-1918.
This is not surprising considering the thousands of young men of many nations who died in those four years of horror. Personal memories of the men who where part of our grandparents’ families have now almost completely faded and are only brought into focus when we watch their medals being auctioned on programmes like Flog It, or we notice some faded photo hanging on the wall in an old aunt’s best room.
As a boy I still remember the pleasure of thumbing through the old song books and the inspiring words of the songs of the Western Front such as “Comrades, Comrades” or “It’s a long way to Tipperary” that I’d discovered below the lid of grandma’s piano stool. Or I’d hear for the first time those haunting melodies telling those back in Blighty to ‘keep the home fires burning’ or the great John Mc Cormack’s heart rending words, ‘But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, Tis the rose that I keep in my heart’. Crackling from a wind up gramophone, they painted the melancholy colours of the Western Front onto my memory for ever.
These wonderful songs must have once drifted from so many terraces onto streets that rang with the sound of Sunday church bells, bugles and marching feet, together with images of horse-drawn coal carts and men in flat caps struggling to go to work on ‘sit up and beg’ bicycles.
Some of us still gaze through the same Victorian glass, but the images we see are of a very different world. No longer do we expect to see Mr and Mrs Penfold stepping past in their Sunday best clutching a hymn book on their way to chapel, or kids flicking fag cards at next doors front fence.
However, the aroma of liver and onions being fried can still transport me back to Saturday teatime in the side passage of a gas lit street, where the smell of pipe smoke and mild ale seeped from pub doorways into the foggy November air. The click of leather soles or Blakey’s on the paving slabs would have been as familiar to the lads that now lie in Flanders fields, as would the smoke filled air that hung like a shroud above the chimney pots; brave young men who were never to return to the streets they had known as boys, or live to enjoy the new world that promised them a land fit for heroes.
My grandfather like so many others lost two of his brothers to foreign wars, Frederick Bellamy who died fighting the Boers in South Africa and his younger brother Arthur Edward Bellamy who was drowned when the hospital ship “Warilda 667” was torpedoed on the third of August 1918, whilst bringing him and hundreds more injured men home from the Front.
We can only imagine the horror of those tear-filled years when family, friends and those who were lucky enough to return chose to keep the things they had heard and seen locked away, perhaps thinking of the struggles they still had to face and of the new generation they were caring for.
So with the vaguest recollection of an assortment of brushes dangling from a mirror behind a fretwork frame I’d once seen in a tiny hall and the faded picture of a soldier hanging in an alcove of a dim lavender scented room I’ve tried to imagine what Private Thomas Caperman may have been thinking as he waited for that whistle to blow before clambering over the top into the family of hell.
I call this little tale ‘Of a Noble Disposition’.
OF A NOBLE DISPOSITION
Barry J Freeman
‘Private Thomas Edward Caperman, heavy smoker and drinker, well, of strong sweet tea, and the best mud skater in the Durham’s’ he ended the letter; ‘I just can’t wait to get back to Blighty and you.’
Shells continued to thud into the craters along the ridge, fifty yards or so to the right. ‘P.S’. he scribbled at the bottom, ‘See you all at Christmas, love to the kids, Tom’.
He folded the note and hurriedly pushed it into a crumpled envelope then threw it into Cottons open sack.
‘See an end to this bloody barrage Cotton?’ he shouted, glancing at the boy in the big hat and muddy gaiters. ‘Three hours they’ve been chucking this rubbish at us.’
‘Sarge say’s we’re lucky Caper, and hopes it goes on ’til New Year. By the way there’s talk of gas on Forty Second.’ ………Read more