Memory is a strange thing in that, once we are through the initial desperate grief and sense of loss of
someone much loved, it’s the happy memories that we tend to remember. My family still use the many weird and wonderful sayings that my dear Mum came out with or re-tell my Dad’s awful jokes.
don’t mind what you call me, so long as it’s not too late for dinner,” my Mum used to say, right to the end of her life. As a child I never really understood it. When asked if she had a view on where we might go, or what we might do, she
would always declare herself to be “alakefic!” – in other words, completely laid back and happy with whatever we did. I gather the word has Egyptian roots and wonder if my dad brought it back from his wartime days as a “Desert Rat.”
As for Dad, well he always said he liked bananas “because they have no bones” and, when asked by my piano-playing off-spring what he would like to hear them play
on his precious piano, would invariably grin and answer: “Far Away!” I am smiling now at the thought of it.
When it comes to war, however, it’s
the awfulness we remember. The trenches, mud and gas attacks of the First World War. The horrors of the Holocaust in the Second World War. The roadside bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices that have killed and maimed so many young soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, on Remembrance Sunday, I am thinking especially of two soldiers whose case studies I am writing for the Great War Project for which I am a volunteer (see
webpage.) Arthur Edwin Pickering was a draughtsman serving with the Royal Engineers who sent back the most beautiful drawings to his tiny daughter, Eileen. The drawings were enclosed in handmade envelopes made out of the graph paper used by him and his fellow
engineers every day and inscribed in exquisite handwriting which puts my scribble to shame. On her fifth birthday, he sent his beloved Jimmy (a pet name, apparently) a loving letter with his latest drawing of his daughter. “What fun we will have,
Mother you and I when I come home,” he wrote. “We have some nice country round here but not nearly so pretty as the walks all round Worthing.”
Arthur Edwin Pickering didn’t live to take his little daughter on her favourite country walks around the town where Mr B and I now live. He died of Spanish 'Flu on November 19th 1918, just eight days after the Armistice which ended
I am also remembering young Ernest George Richardson, who died, aged 24 in the Battle of Marne on July 29 1918. From all the evidence I have accumulated
for my case study, it seems it was a horrific death. He received a massive hit in the thigh from enemy bombardment which was so heavy that the casualties could not be recovered. Others who were wounded were able to struggle to the casualty stations. I fear
that Ernest may have bled to death, in terrible pain. He was far from his home in the peaceful Sussex village of Streat where – country boy that he was - he had lived all his life until war took him out to Egypt, the Dardanelles and finally, fatally,
to the fields of France where he lies in an unknown grave. I want to rant and rail at the thought of it.
Shortly before his final battle Ernest sent a prophetic
post card to his parents, George and Louisa. The picture on the front of the postcard shows a sleeping soldier dreaming of home, together with a poem, the final lines of which read:
“And I think about you often
Fearing not what luck may bring.
If the home I’m guarding’s guarded
you’re safe - that’s everything.”
On the back of the postcard, there is a poignant note in pencil which reads: “Ern’s last
It has been a privilege to research Arthur and Ernest's stories. I only hope, when I have finally finished these case studies and they are published,
with many others, on the Great War Project website, that in a small way I will have done justice to Arthur the Artist and Ernest the Country Boy.