Sunday, 11 November 2012

Church of Gramps

I am in Ypres, Belgium for this year's Remembrance Sunday.

But last year was no less special.....

The weather was bright and unseasonably warm . And I was up and out by 8.30 of the AM (shudder) on my way to London to attend the annual service at the Cenotaph. 

A veteran friend of mine was laying a wreath on behalf of the ATS and, although I failed to get anywhere even near the Cenotaph, I did see him on a big old screen from about half a mile back.

After the silence, followed by the pomp, The Beard and I headed off on a trip to somewhere new to me, but a place that would have been all too familiar to my Great-Great-Grandfather, who is known to us as Gramps.

During his extensive research, my Pops had found out a lot more about him than I could have ever imagined. Namely, the area he lived in when he joined up. That was enough to floor me.

But then he told me about the church my Great-Grandfather had been christened in. 

Walking past a pub where he possibly drank, through what is now a housing estate and arriving at these gates left me feeling a bit weak and watery-eyed.

But to actually be able to go in, left me stunned. 

It had nothing to do with the jumble sale that was being organised by busy members of the local community. That is not to say that I ignored the vast amount of tat that was just begging to be rifled through. Thankfully, (or frightfully?), none of it was for sale until the next Saturday.

What left me so speechless was the small plaque on the wall. To all the men and boys from the parish who had perished.

Of which my Gramps was only one of many. 

To see W.E.French on a commemoration plague here in the UK, that I could touch and stand next to? Let's just say I am pleased I wore waterproof eyelash goo.

Just as in France, his name was on a wall with people he knew. People from the same locality. Neighbours. People of acquaintance. Friends.

A stark comparison to the great, white walls at Arras, but no less poignant. In fact, a little more so as every one of the men mentioned would have been a member of the church I was now standing in.

I had to let The Beard take over the explanation to a friendly, but slightly bemused, lady who had helped us locate the plaque.

Now. As I have come to write this, it has spooked me slightly that I am wearing the same dress in France by his name, as I chose to wear that day. This was not pre-meditated at all, I literally grabbed a frock I felt comfy in. Odd.

It was only as I left the coolness of the church and came back out into the sunshine of that November day that it really hit me. And it was standing on the threshold of church that reduced me to big, gulping breaths. 

The very same threshold that he would have carried each one of his 3 children, the eldest one being my own Great-Grandfather, over to be christened.

I had to move away and lean on a wall.

We then decided to try and complete the last leg of the visit to the small street that still, to this day, contains the house he lived in.

It is a moments stroll from the church, a reminder of how close knit communities were back then. We know from our research that one of the men listed on the commemoration plaque lived 2 doors up from my Gramps and his young family. 

Did they join up on the same day? Did Gramps hold the arm of the younger man as they waved goodbye from this street?

If all of this -  the pub, the church, the spooky dress thing and being outside his home, standing on the cobbles he would have trod -  was not enough...

.... then there was this on the floor.

Spelt in the way I used to spell my name, granted (Charly is a shortening of my real name. And no. It's not Charlotte *wink*) but still.

My name. There. In the floor.


I don't know how many smokes I smoked whilst standing in that street. It all kind of rushed at me. Like a scene from Christmas Carol when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge by the hand and down the tunnel to see what has been before.

After I had semi recovered from my wobble, I had to use all my resolve to stop myself from knocking on the glossy black front door of the property and trying to explain the situation. 

I am sure it would have weirded out the current tenants. But, would they mind if I just had a look, could they just spare 5 mins...? 

I didn't knock. I didn't actually go anywhere near the door.

I might let the postman do that for me...

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful, moving post. So sad to think of communities losing so many young men.


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