One of the (many) things I love about Mr B is that he always knows when I really, really want to do something, without me having to tell him.
He knew, without so much as a word from me, that after my long afternoon in the Records Office (see yesterday’s blog) learning as much as I could about World War I soldier, Ernest George Richardson, the one thing I would really
want to do today would be to visit the village where Ernest lived before he went off to war. We would go this afternoon, Mr B told me - straight after Choir.
Choir. Mr B likes to turn up early so that he can choose his seat in the Men’s Section and, more importantly, who he sits next to. He likes to have a laugh and a joke with his fellow male choir members and so to keep our conductor, the redoubtable
Muriel, on her toes.
Today our pianist is absent which means that Muriel has to play the piano, conduct and teach us all at the same time. She is impressively
versatile though we all hold our breath when she hops on and off the little wooden dais she brings with her. We sing “America” from West Side Story and “Spread a Little Happiness” and “Linden Lea.” On the way home
Mr B complains that he didn’t know any of the songs we sang – it turns out he is referring to “Linden Lea.” If he had been a pupil at my school (which would have created something of a stir as it was an All Girls School) he would
have known both words and tune – we sang it a lot in our music lessons as it was one of the music teacher’s favourites.
After a quick lunch
we set off for the little village of Streat where Ernest lived with his parents, George and Louisa, and elder brother Albert. We are armed with a Google map which has worryingly large expanses of green and a singular lack of A roads. Streat, it seems, is well
out in the country. For a while we drive along quite happily, enjoying the glorious Sussex countryside, until it becomes clear that we are lost and we park up to consult the Stupid Map. Mr B says
it is All My Fault because I have not been directing him properly - in fact, harsh words might have been spoken but a policeman is walking up to our parked car. I wind down the window, smile sweetly (always a good idea when faced with The Law) explain that
we are lost and ask if he can tell us the way to Streat.
Now, when I was a littl’un my parents always told me that, if ever I lost my way, I should find
a policeman who would be sure to see me safely wherever I wanted to go. It is therefore a dreadful disappointment, shaking my childhood beliefs to the core, to discover that our Boy in Blue hasn’t the faintest idea where we are or where we should be
heading. He looks at our Google map, points to a large area of green and says he thinks we are “somewhere round there”, then tells us, lamely, to drive on and look out for a sign-post. Which is what we have been doing for the last
half-hour. He excuses himself by saying he is from Brighton which doesn’t quite explain why he is out here in the bright blue yonder, pretending to be a policeman of the old-fashioned kind.
Nevertheless we drive on and miraculously find a left turning into Streat Lane which leads us, finally, to Streat Parish Church. It’s such a beautiful, peaceful place - how hard it must have been for Ernest to exchange
such tranquillity for the horrors of the battlefield.
Outside the church, sitting on a bench and sunning himself, is an Intrepid Walker. He tells us that he is
just out for a short walk of four – five hours today; usually he aims to be walking for a minimum of seven to eight hours a day. We try to look as if we know what it is like to tramp over field and fen for hours at a time. I tell him about Ernest
George Richardson and we talk about wars across the years, from Ernest’s Great War to Afghanistan today. We all agree that We Will Never Learn.
– the church is open. Inside we find the memorial to Ernest and the other men who fell in the First World War. Outside we discover the family grave of George and Louisa Richardson, Ernest’s parents, on which an inscription to their lost son has
been added. A few graves away is the headstone for Ernest’s brother Albert and his wife, an unexpected bonus for me in terms of the information it provides me. Across a little lane we find the Village War Memorial, its inscriptions hard
to read but just about decipherable. Mr B takes lots of photographs for me – I can’t afford for these photos to be blurred and something tells me that there is absolutely no way we will ever return.
On the way home I’m singing “Spread a Little Happiness” to myself. I like to think that Ernest Richardson, who you will remember always looked on the bright side, would have sung along.