The Guardian used the phrase “cultural tyranny” recently to describe the atmosphere surrounding media expectations about the wearing of poppies. The editorial wondered if a poppy week might be a way of concentrating minds and hearts. We all recognise that attitudes vary towards the poppy in the buttonhole: I wear one to remember my dad and grand-dad; some wear them in recognition of current conflicts; some do not wish to wear one and some wear a white poppy. It is easy to forget that the renewed intensity surrounding Remembrance is of recent provenance.
Whatever our motivations, I am sure we are all united in our despair at the carnage of WW1. How can we forget Harry Patch describing war as “legalised murder”? So in that spirit, I include the final line of Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth, “And each slow dusk the drawing down of blinds”, for our own mobilisation and entrance to the front line. This image seems to capture the heart break of war; the atmosphere of a dismal November afternoon; the empty evenings and empty spaces; even the foreshadowing of the arrival of the telegram announcing the news of Owen’s own death, on Armistice Day.
So with thanks to Chas Townley for his book “Lest Ye Forget” and with thanks to Eleanor M. Rawling for her “Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire Exploring Poetry and Place”, both of which I heartily recommend, I will try to suggest some walks and/or pilgrimages to suit all tastes this and every Remembrance-tide. The first thing to say that there are a lot of moving war memorials in the area – no wonder; for here are the numbers of dead listed in Chas’ book, taken from the pages of “The Stroud District and its part in The Great War, 1914-1919”, published by The Stroud News, in the aftermath of the ending of that conflict.
(This is from a quick count – I may have made inadvertent mistakes.)
AVENING: 35 BISLEY-with-LYPIATT, EASTCOMBE and OAKRIDGE: 52 BRIMSCOMBE: 34
CAINSCROSS: 52 CHALFORD, FRANCE LYNCH, BUSSAGE and BROWNSHILL: 65
EASTINGTON: 21 EDGE: 6 FROCESTER: 5 HORSLEY: 39 KING STANLEY: 24
LEONARD STANLEY: 15 MINCHINHAMPTON: 45 MISERDEN: 14 NAILSWORTH: 43
PAINSWICK: 43 PITCHCOMBE: 12 RANDWICK: 13 RODBOROUGH: 45
SELSLEY: 14 STONEHOUSE: 52 STROUD: 249 SLAD: 16 THRUPP: 31 UPLANDS: 25
WHITESHILL: 36 WOODCHESTER: 25. So, it would be easy to arrange walks, bike rides and pilgrimages to these memorials: a moving and memorable thing to do.
There are other places to visit too - Chas writes, in his introduction, that “More or less every Gloucestershire village and town is marked by war memorials listing the fallen and it is easy to forget the many more practical projects undertaken to remember their sacrifice.” Here are these “practical projects” that one could visit: the 1919 extension to Stroud Hospital, the “Peace Memorial Wing”; “Victory Park” at Cainscross; “for the wealthy a public park, as at Park Gardens in Stroud”, says Chas and “ For the less well off, perhaps a bench or donation”.
Betty Merrett wrote of the “Parks and Gardens of Stroud” in the Stroud Local History Society’s Millennium Booklet: “Park Gardens was another gift to the town. Sidney Park was a local businessman and councillor. Parks Drapery prominently occupied the corner of King Street and George Street where the HSBC bank now stands. The family lived in a flat over the shop.
Their only son, Herbert, was killed in France in 1917 in WW1 aged 23, and in 1920 Councillor Park gave a tract of land off Slad Road as a garden memorial to his son and all who fell during the 1914-18 war. The town’s cenotaph stands in the garden.”
Now I return to Chas and his section on Oakridge: “Oakridge’s war memorial was a water supply and drinking fountain – a reminder that in the villages we did not have mains water for many years to come.” He also mentions the font at Minchinhampton church; the Eagle Lectern at Leonard Stanley church; the Wayside Cross at Woodchester Priory and, tells us a great deal more about the Oakridge War Memorial. This is worth knowing. It could mean a pilgrimage.
The Oakridge site commemorates the only woman to be named on a memorial in the area: Mabel Dearmer. She went to serve in Serbia as a hospital orderly; she died within three months from enteric fever, but left these comment for posterity: “This war will not bring peace – no war will bring peace – only love and mercy and terrific virtues such as loving one’s enemy can bring a terrific thing like peace.” Her editor reflected on the tragedy of her end in a similar vein: “It is easy to go into danger when convinced that your country’s cause is righteous; she thought that for all countries war was unrighteous, yet she went.”
Her husband served as a chaplain with the Red Cross; one son died at Gallipoli; one son survived the war. The Oakridge Memorial - a practical commemoration – brought the village a water supply from a nearby spring. These are the words on the Dearmer Inscription plate at Oakridge:
“In memory of MABEL DEARMER
who went from Oakridge the place she loved best
to give help in Serbia where she died of fever
at Kragujevatz on July 11th aged 43, and of
Who died of wounds at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli
On October 6th 1915 aged 21
Proud of the war all glorious went the son.
Loathing the war all mournful went the mother.
Each had the same wage when the day was done.
Tell me was either braver than the other.
They slept in mire who went so comely ever
Then when you wash let the thought of them abide.
They knew the parching thirst of wounds and fever.
Here when you drink remember them who died.
Chas writes: “In a town that is divided by values and visions of war and peace;
where the wearing of a poppy (for some red for some white) is seen by some
not as an act of Charity and Love but as acts of personal controversy,
something needs to be done to build bridges…Couldn’t we all at least unite at
Percy Dearmer’s Water Fountain to remember those who laid down
their lives in our service?”
THESE OAKRIDGE MEN
ALSO GAVE THEIR LIVES
E. Blackwell M. Blackwell A. Curtis W.M. Curtis A. Fern W. Fern P. Gardiner S. Gardiner
P. Hill W. Hunt W.G. Hunt R.T. Gardiner A. Robbins A. Rowles A. Smith T. White H. White
A. Young E. Young F. Young E. Weare
In GRATEFUL MEMORY OF
George Edward Ivor Fry PTE. RAMC
James Frederick Fry SGT. NAV. RAF
Albert Hunt PTE. RAOC
Stanley Henry Morgan GNR. R.A.
R.C.Baker Stallard-Penoyre LT. R.N. (A)
Arthur Phipps GNR. R.A.
James Edward Young PTE. R. NORF. REG.
WHO FELL IN THE WAR OF 1939-45
INTO THY HAND O LORD
A Remembrance Walk to Oakridge and back to Stroud October 17th 2012
I caught the number 54 Cotswold Green bus,
On a russet-warm, apple-autumn day,
To Frampton Mansell Church,
In the 1920s footsteps of my dad,
Who lived here in a Great War Nissan hut;
His de-mob dad, seeking work,
My dad, playing conkers on his way to school,
Or watching the trains on the viaduct,
Just as I do today in his memory.
I walked on down past the giant retaining wall,
Under the railway and across the canal,
To climb the hill past streams, brooks, rills and springs,
To reach Oakridge Lynch War Memorial:
There are so many corners of foreign fields,
That are for ever England,
In word, dust, deed, blood, ash and bone,
But here, on Oakridge village green,
Is a cruciform water- trough,
Fed by a spring that is for ever England,
That roams through wild flowers,
Breathing English air,
Bless’d by the sun on its way to the Severn,
A heart of peace, under an English heaven,
Giving back thoughts of England given.
I read the inscriptions and then sat back on the green,
Chatting to a woman gathering flowers,
Who told me that during the Tewkesbury floods,
When piped water became polluted,
Oakridge village used the springs once more;
Another woman told me of the war graves in the churchyard,
Recently and lovingly cleaned and pristine-restored;
She pointed out my footpath to Eastcombe:
“Go past the old toll house.”
I walked past more springs,
Then the site of a Roman villa,
Then more springs and some tumuli,
Before rain made me dispense with map and specs,
To follow my nose and ask for directions instead:
“Aim for the waterfall”,
“Contour Mackhouse woods and aim south for Stroud”.
I walked past black-spot sycamore leaves,
Blood-red rowan and spiked-steel hawthorn,
Thunder crackling above like guns across the Channel,
Hailstones ricocheting like shrapnel;
My path was blocked by fallen trees,
Prickled barbed wire stars of holly,
Puddles like forlorn foxholes,
And a succession of map-marked Spouts,
Until I left No-Man’s Land.
I ambled along spring-line Thrupp Lane,
Then down the canal to the Lock-Keeper’s,
Where on an opposite wall,
A new piece of graffiti has appeared,
A Banksy-like badger’s face,
With a bullet in its blood-red eye.
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”