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Centenary of The Great War’s Armistice

November 11, 2018

Blackawton Armistice Centenary Poppies collage

Towards the end of The Great War, two conscripted soldiers were standing shoulder to shoulder when an exploding shell scattered shrapnel into their trench. One was killed instantly. The other received a life-saving ‘Blighty one’ — temporarily lamed by shrapnel embedded in his foot — and was stretchered away to the safety of a sanitorium. The survivor was my grandfather. As a boy he had kept pet rats — used to carry them around with him in his pockets — which made the presence of feral rats in the trenches less upsetting for him than for many. It was hearing the story of the night he was enrolled for action, from his daughter, my mother, that inspired the poem below:

Soul-Mates, 1916

He sat there, pale and frozen, locked in fear
while, all around, the freshly harnessed men
waved their pints and drove away their troubles
the only way they knew, in drink and song.
When morning came their blurred heads turned to chalk,
goose-flesh trembled, no-one spoke a word;
he alone took on a new tranquillity,
his fear outreached itself and burnt away.
They looked and could not understand his calm,
not noticing his silence through that night,
when their bravado, raucous, loud and long
had swallowed up his lonely suffering.

Spirits cruelly dampened in the trenches,
strong men cried and glory lost its shine,
songs died in thin air, the music faded;
all-pervading squalor claimed their minds.

This man, whose long artistic fingers often
painted sunsets; sketched a gentle world,
reached out now to tame the rats; befriend them,
his intellect admired their ready skill,
saw sharpness in their clever speedy learning
to pierce the ration-tins of Nestle’s milk,
on either side, to make the sweetness flow;
their rodent wit resigned him to their raid.

Vermilion summer skies of English evenings
had moved this man to tears long before
the brutal war had forced him into khaki,
yet even now it could not steal his soul.
His fellow-men, their swearing and their cursing,
the dirt, the damp, the fear, the degradation;
all these he would have born in isolation,
had not his human spirit searched elsewhere:
companionship he found, at last, in rats.

© Celia Warren 2018

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The photo above shows the finished display of over 1000 knitted and crocheted poppies at Blackawton village church. It commemorates the centenary of Armistice Day at the end of WWI and includes 15 poppies that I crocheted.

pile of poppies crochet

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