At the 11th hour …

She sits in the parlour, hands neatly clasped, noises outside remote.  Like echoes from a distant place.

The door opens.

“Coming?  The whole street’s out there.  Celebrating.”

She shakes her head.  Tries to smile.

“You go.”

He hesitates, steps towards his mother.  She waves him away.

“I’d prefer to stay here.  With my thoughts.  With the other two.”

He nods, wants to kiss her cheek, but is afraid he might cry.  A grown man crying.  After what he has seen.  Survived.

Outside, jubilant cheers grow.

“Arthur,” she murmurs.  “And Gordon.  My sons.  My lost boys.”

“Their duty,” he says mechanically, “they did …”

But the word implodes, like an unexploded shell.

“Wasted lives,” she says.  “The futility of it.”

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Pete Kellock

    Jude – thanks for this! I’m still pondering the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 a few days ago. Seems to me the best way we can honour the young men who gave their lives in the trenches is to avoid it happening again. When I hear people promoting nationalism or nativism, saying we need to put “our country” or “our people” first, I wonder if they know the set of attitudes and values which fuelled WW1 and whether they’ve given any thought to how we might slide down the same path again (except of course this time with weapons even more terrible). I wonder if they’ve considered that “putting our people first” or “making our nation great again” – such seductive memes – tend to achieve the very opposite because they bounce right back.
    Let’s remember the set of values which misled these brave young men to their unnecessary deaths and vow to reject them.

    1. Jude Hayland
      Jude Hayland

      I couldn’t agree with you more – marking the 100 years since 1918 should be done in the spirit of profound determination never to repeat such appalling, horrific waste of precious lives. On Saturday afternoon, my sister and I visited a cousin who has in her possession the original copy of a letter written by Gordon, one of the young men (my paternal grandfather’s brothers)featured in my flash fiction piece. Dated January 30th 1916, I can only quote from it best to reflect its poignancy: ‘I am sorry to know that Arthur and Henry have now joined up and trust they will never see the sights I have seen, enough to make one go balmy and I am sorry to say there are a few who will never recover their senses again….I have known times when I have slept all night amongst several dead bodies and had to bury them the best way I could. I could write a book on what I have seen. I shall be very glad when the war is all over and I return home again for good.’ Gordon was killed a few months later and buried at Gaza. His brother, Arthur, died in France the following year. My grandfather, Henry, survived.

      Excessive patriotism is frightening to me: nationalism in any form, utterly abhorrent. The war poets said it over and over again, Owen, arguably, most succinctly: ‘Above all, I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War and the pity of war. The Poetry is in the pity…. All a poet can do today is warn.’
      I like to think that the millions who gathered on Sunday to mark the centenary were doing so in this spirit and also in that expressed by Sassoon in his poem ‘Aftermath.’
      ‘Look up and swear by the green of the Spring that you’ll never forget.’

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