Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ghost Soldiers Return Home.

They just showed up. Not saying a word. Just marching through the streets and city centres on their way back from a place where none return. That seemed the thinking behind this remarkable display of humanity in remembrance of a situation that showed us at our very worst. The Somme commemoration Project was organised by artist Jeremy Deller and a National Theatre director Rufus Norris and it involved around 1.500 participants and volunteers.( found this out at the BBC news page when I attempted to find out the organising principals behind what I considered to be a deeply moving and completely demonstration of empathy for a generation past) The Battle Of the Somme seems is perhaps one of the darkest episodes of warfare in human history. A meat grinder of an event. The 1.500 performers each represented a man who fell on the first day of fighting( It is estimated that the total number of civilian and military deaths during WW! is some where between thirty seven and a half million and forty million.
               Found that difficult just to write down. The word "estimated" does not seem up to the job.
               I was in a second hand book store one day browsing through an amazing shelf on world history books when I felt myself under scrutiny. You know that sense one has when one feels another's eyeballs creep across ones being like an indiscreet ninja. I peered about me with my deadly Sauron eyes to deter any possible threat but realised it was the store owner sitting adjacent to his counter just staring at me. He explained he thought I reminded him of a first world war soldier who had come back from the front and was having a difficult time adjusting to life back home. He suggested I had been mentally scarred by what I had seen and experienced. Smiling on the outside screaming on the inside. He further added he meant no offense that it was only what I brought to mind. He hoped I was not offended.
                 I was not offended. People quite often lose control of their inner monologue around me. I have one of those expressions that seems to sign post random opinion. I was more concerned that his projected biography of me was such a distressing one and one out of joint in time.
                 I had only popped in looking for a Moomins paperback.
                 I remember reading of urban ghost stories about ghost soldiers returning home following the many massacres which occurred during the first world war. Reports from small villages of lost boys and men who had fallen on some far flung field only to be spotted on some familiar street or some location where they could not possibly be. I had even heard of the appearance of an angel over the battle field. Is it any less likely that some strong heroic soul managed to find their way from beyond the veil to once more walk upon the green and pleasant land they grew up on.
                 I think following the atrocities of the First World War and the sheer scale of the conflict and the loss involved all bets were off as regard the longings and possibilities of the human heart. I think of muddy foot prints of lost men following roads that have no ends and I try to keep a tender place in my memory for those who fell. It helps to read Wilfred Owen and the beautiful words he wrote. I do not mean to be disrespectful by not attempting to reproduce the whole of his Anthem, For Doomed Youth but here is the second part. I was not brought up with poetry but some of it found me.
                    What candles maybe held to speed them all?
                     Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
                     Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
                     The pallo  of girls brows shall be their pall,
                     Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
                     and each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.