Sunday, October 29, 2017

Is Remembrance now just a photo shoot?

Those who know me will know that I am not a jingoist of any kind so I make no apology for returning to the subject of remembering the dead of the first world war.
Visiting Tyne Cot Cemetery this week I was appalled to say the least at the sight of young people climbing about on the central memorial cross just to have their photos taken.
I spoke to one of the guides who told me that the steps on the base of the cross where designed to be used for that.  She said that when King George V visited the cemetery he wanted to stand on the place where so many allied soldiers had stood.
I pointed out that standing on that spot reflecting on the dead of war was a world away from using a memorial as a platform for photographs.
She replied "You are entitled to your opinion."

The first time we visited Tyne Cot, we were almost alone there and it was a moving experience.  Unfortunately this time it was almost impossible to think of it in quite the same way.

Hopefully after 2018 this place will return to being a place of remembrance and not the tourist venue that it appears to be today.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A hundred years ago

Frederick Feston died nearly one hundred years ago on 25th October 1917. One of the casualties of the Third battle of Ypres that they called Passchendaele.  Not the only one who died that day so it is all too easy to lump them all together as casualties and forget that each of them was an individual: son, father or husband.
Fred Feston is a real man to us even though we never knew him. His daughters never knew him,   the first only a baby and the second born after he died. His widow remarried so his memory gradually faded.
We know him because of our interest in family history and we have been able to piece together his life before the war and the events surrounding his few brief months in the army in France before he disappeared into the mud of Flanders.  No grave-just a name inscribed on a long wall among so many others and an entry in  memorial book.

The Third Battle of Ypres ended at the beginning of November, too late for Fred Feston and for close to three quarters of a million men who died there in less than a month.  In a poem, Sigfried Sassoon put it "I died in Hell, they called it Passchendaele."