Friday, 1 July 2016

The Somme: Elegy for a Great-Uncle

I could have known my great-uncle Ernie, had he lived. Tough types, those North Londoners - against all the odds, given their poverty, they all made it into their eighties. That's if they didn't die under enemy fire.

In 1916, he was just in his twenties. I have no idea what he looked like. Short, I expect. They were all short, that side of the family. Probably the result of being working-class, in the days when London overspilled all its boundaries, pouring out from the centre and washing over Kentish Town, Holloway and all points north.

His name is on the "Cromwell Road" memorial now to be found in Whittington Park, Archway - where his parents and his sister and his nephews and nieces lived, before it was flattened for improvements.

He died because an overstretched empire fought a frustrated one. Because rich men and politicians always want more.

He died because war was now mechanised. Men mere pawns to be pushed together in the centre of the board, swapped off until one side could gain an advantage - or ranged in defensive positions across the board, preventing progress.

He died because he joined a regiment from a long way from his home, and went to a battle field even further than that. Dying in a country whose language he couldn't speak, for an empire from which he had never benefited.

His was just one story - just one North London mother receiving the feared letter. One footnote, one corporal, one more laid to rest, unidentified, in a grave that nobody now knows. Remembered in Thiepval, and in a scruffy park in North London, where the kids smoke dope and the tough guys work out,

There is a corner of a foreign field which is forever Holloway. At the rising of the sun, and its going down, I will remember him.

1 comment :


    May all our ancestors rest in peace.


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