Friday, 31 October 2014

A Guide to the War Memorials of Stroud and the Five Valleys

My pilgrimage started in those dirty days of late winter,
When the wretched rain fell incessantly,
It was just as damp as ‘Bleak House’:
It dripped through the branches in Rodborough Churchyard,
It dripped through the branches of the yew trees
In St Lawrence’s in Stroud,
And slid down the ‘No Drinking in the Street’ sign
Outside the Park in the Slad Road.

But puddles reflected sunlight gleams the next day,
As I pedalled through snowdrops and birdsong,
To the two war memorials in Woodchester;
And a week later, February crocuses bloomed
In the fields beyond Fretherne Churchyard,
While storm clouds from the Somme
Gathered over the Severn,
Just where Ivor Gurney plied his boat.

Next on the list was a bus trip to Stroud Hospital,
To take a picture of the 1919 Peace Wing,
On a hailstorm-sunshine-rainbow sort of day,
Before taking the railway to Stonehouse,
And a warm March day walk to Lower Mills,
Where I caught the number 14 bus to Stroud,
Whose delightful driver, Steve Burrows,
Allowed me to alight at Leonard Stanley,
Kings Stanley and then Selsley,
To take quick memorial photographs,
Much to the delight of my fellow passengers,
On a Magical Mystery Tour sort of trip:
‘Tell that man he’s left his bag.’
‘Don’t worry’ he’s getting back on again.’

Sunday March the 9th was a gleaming spring day,
So I bicycled past umpteen old cloth mills,
River liquid light all along my way,
To Nailsworth, Avening, Minchinhampton and Amberley,
With long barrows and a standing stone for company;
How lucky we are to live where we live!
I sang all the way home:
‘Why, oh why, oh why, oh why, would you rather be anywhere else?’

I biked around Cainscross on the following Friday,
Taking in St Matthews Church
(My grandparents were married here on August 22nd 1914,
Before Gramp went off to join up)
And Victory Park,
Then into a blossom blown cut grass wind,
As I went past the locks and sluice gates of the canal,
To Eastington’s churchyard memorial and village hall,
Then Frocester’s memorial at the cross roads,
Before photographing war graves in St Swithins,
July 1918, 1919 and 1920,
Deaths just before and then after the Armistice:
Glimpse the pity of war at Leonard Stanley.

An equinoctial bike ride took me to BrImscombe,
Whose memorial is tucked in by the busy A419,
And then along the primrose path to the old signal box,
Down at St Mary’s, Chalford,
One of the few staffed level crossings left:
‘You must have the best job in the country.’
‘Thank - you. I think so too.
Time has been kinder here than in most places.’
I then photographed the Chalford crucifix memorial,
A traditional mythopoeic setting at a crossroads,

But on returning to Stroud, storm clouds gathered,
So I caught an afternoon number 93 to Whiteshill,
Where the scaffolded memorial stands at a crossroads,
Just up from the churchyard,
Where two gravestones caught my eye:
205519 Gunner A. Perry, Royal Field Artillery,
18th February 1917, Ubique Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt
(Where Right and Glory Lead),
In Loving Memory of Alfred,
Beloved Husband of Ada Louisa Berry,
Who died February 18th 1917 aged 32 years,
Peace Perfect Peace.
This juxtaposition of state and family, love and duty,
Haunted me as I descended by an old track
To Salmon Springs and thence into town,
With Wilfred Owen’s line following me in the wind:
‘We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy’;
I trudged home, wet, weary and cold:
‘And in his eyes
The cold stars lighting, very old and bleak,
In different skies.’

The next day, we went over to the other side of the river,
Into the ever changing sky-scape of the Dean,
To look at the Dymock Poets’ exhibition in the church
(Where we had tea and cake, whilst the choir rehearsed
For their Great War evening concert: ‘Before Action’),
And Kempley’s war memorial beneath a medieval wall painting,
Before visiting the house of Lascelles Abercombie,
The homes of Robert Frost and Edward Thomas,
With the Malverns, May Hill and the Cotswolds,
All around us in a big sky silver grey cyclorama,
Thinking of Thomas’ poem, ‘For These’,
Written after passing doctor’s orders and enlisting,
On the day my mum was born, 14.7.15,
And some of Thomas’ reasons for joining up:
‘A house that shall love me as I love it,
Well hedged and honoured by a few ash trees…
A garden I need never go beyond…
A spring, a brook’s bend or at least a pond.’

With these words still fresh in my mind,
I got up early the next day, before the cars woke up,
To take a Cider with Rosie ride to Sunday Slad,
Wild garlic was blooming by the side of a spring,
Before I reached the memorial below Bull’s Cross,
I bicycled on past Longridge and Windyridge,
Up hill and down dale to Sheepscombe’s crossroads,
While a parliament of rooks reassured us that winter had indeed ended,
As I passed Damsells Cross and Washwell Farm,
Before descending to Painswick’s yew tree churchyard,
Just as a hailstorm came in from No Man’s Land.

A train to Gloucester, and a bus to Quedgeley,
Took me to St. James’ and its memorial,
Then the next day I explored All Saints Church,
As the wind blew me east, walking through Stroud,
To find a memorial inside the church in Uplands,
A single candle and a wreath sufficient for solemnity;
The number 46 bus and a walk through Shortwood,
Tickmorend and Downend took me to Horsley,
(A memorial just by the church, the bus stop and the school),
Before descending through Ruskin Mill’s sluice-scape,
A heron pointing my way back to Nailsworth and the bus,
Just before the rain came in, on a mid-day westerly breeze.

Next, we were out for a walk on Mothering Sunday,
Through violets, forget me nots, nesting rooks,
And an awakening slowworm in Toadsmoor,
To see Bisley's crossroads memorial,
Lunchtime drinkers at the Stirrup Cup,
Enjoying the sunshine,
Almost in reading range of the names of the fallen,
Watching me, watching them:
‘I’ve seen ‘em, I’ve seen ‘em, hangin’ on the old barbed wire,
I’ve seen ‘em, I’ve seen ‘em, hangin’ on the old barbed wire.’

A few days later, I caught the bus up to high hill Eastcombe,
Crawling up past old mills, races and ponds again,
With blackthorn and horse chestnut candles
To light my way to the churchyard memorial;
‘I’ve seen ‘em, I’ve seen ‘em, hangin’ on the old barbed wire,
I’ve seen ‘em, I’ve seen ‘em, hangin’ on the old barbed wire.’

My next trip meant the number 35 bus on the 9th of April,
A two pound forty single delight,
Gazing at the wood anemone by the roadside,
A palimpsest of ancient woodland by this main road,
Traveling by bus on what was once a prehistoric track,
That once made its way under a gloomy canopy,
But now tarmacadam speeds south of the Cotswold scarp -
But I was on my way to Nympsfield’s war memorial,
Just by the shadowed wall of the Old Chapel,
A crucifix, refashioned from one found on the Somme,
And brought back to this Catholic village in 1917;
I walked to Nailsworth along Tinkley Lane,
Past the rhythmic turbine, friend and ally of the wind,
Not worried about poison gas beneath the cotton wool clouds.

I had a blood test the following morning,
And doing my best to be a brave soldier by not fainting,
(What would those names on these memorials have thought of me?)
I eventually caught the 230 to Randwick,
£1.50 to be transported along Foxmoor Lane,
Up through Westrip to the crossroad war memorial,
A tree blossom green meadow Cotswold panorama,
And then down to Cainscross along mossy footpaths,
To collect my bike from the timeless Cainscross bike shop,
To cycle along the canal like an Edwardian Mr. Polly,
All under a blue sky Rupert Brooke English heaven.

On the Friday, I caught the number 54,
Three quid one way to Sapperton,
To view the memorial at the parish church of Saint Kenelm,
A memorial for both Sapperton and Frampton Mansell
(Where my dad lived at the end of the Great War);
I dropped down to the Thames and Severn canal tunnel,
To see the River Frome reappear after its dry hiding,
Turbid at first, but quickly limpid and laughing,
A perfect companion for me, and the heron
That acted as a numinous guide through the valley,
Past marsh marigold mouldering locks,
Then anemone and bluebell woodland,
Until I ascended to the Oakridge water trough memorial
(‘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.’).

My path then went across fields and past springs,
To reach St. John the Baptist in France Lynch,
With its memorial inside the church,
And a gravestone for Private Gardiner,
Died 25th October 1918, aged 18:
It is impossible not to have your heartstrings pulled,
When reading these bald statements in an English churchyard,
On an English spring day, under an English heaven,
So young, and so close to the end,
The remorseless pity of war…
I descended by weavers’ and packhorse tracks,
To reach Chalford and the canal again,
With the Great Western Railway above me,
The ghosts of Tommy Atkins at the carriage windows,
With clouds waving their handkerchief goodbyes.

The next day was chilly with light the colour of pewter,
But a meeting in Stroud Library led me to the memorial
In Bedford Street Congregational Chapel,
A bit of old Stroud right there in the centre of town:
A good cup of good strong tea for only 80p,
An old sweet jar for old postage stamps
‘For the Leprosy Appeal’,
Marmalade for only £1.50,
And a tour of the chapel to see the wall memorial:
‘We used to have congregations of 200, but it’s only 25 now,
And I’m the youngest’;
It was too dark to photograph today,
So we leave that for a bright window light occasion,
As we will Ruscombe Congregational Chapel,
Having been given a contact telephone number
By the welcoming hosts in the tearoom;

So, on a sunny Palm Sunday,
I watched a tractor ploughing a large brown earth field,
With gulls gathering in its wake,
Edward Thomas again flitting through my mind:
‘“Have many gone
From here?” “Yes.” “Many lost?”  “Yes; a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him…”
I watched the clods tumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.’

I saw another giant ploughed-earth field the next day,
Clouds tumbling and toppling over,
After taking the 93 to Edge on a day rider:
There is, seemingly, I thought,
No memorial to see in the village,
(The church door was locked)
But it is not a blessed village,
For there is a family tribute to Major Garnegy in the churchyard,
‘He gallantly fell in action on the 3rd July 1916 in his 41st year.’
“There is but one task for all,
And each one life to give,
Who stands if freedom fall
Who dies if England live”.
“He being dead yet speaketh.”

I tripped down the lane to Painswick,
Past bluebells, violets and lady’s smock,
To snap what must be a unique juxtaposition,
A stained glass window
‘dedicated to the glory of God & in honour of the men of Painswick  
who served their king and country in the Great War’,
 The gift of George Cox AD1925,
Just opposite some Puritan graffiti from 1644,
Etched by Richard Foot, enemy of his king,
A prisoner of the Royalists during the siege of the church,
A line derived from Edmund Spenser’s ‘Faery Queen’,
That could serve as wise counsel for a soldier in any war:
‘Be bolde, Be bolde…be not too bold.’
I looked at the preparations for Easter:
The iconography of the crucifix, sacrifice and resurrection,
And reflected on the iconography of so many war memorials,
So interlinked with Christian symbolism in so many conscious and subliminal ways,
What succour this must have been for so many a century or so ago,
In a land of Christian belief and at a time both spiritual and spiritualist,
When table tapping, séances and mediums,
Electricity and the ether might all lead to the other side.

A visit to Pitchcombe on the number 46 confirmed this.
The village stretches in a semi-circle along a suntrap valley,
But with an old orchard in full bloom for company,
I couldn’t see the church, until helpful instruction:
‘Turn left after the mill pond.’
The memorial stood in bright sunlight
Just behind a thorn entwined crucifix
(Like so much barbed wire),
Down in the shadow, just by the church gate.
I paid my respects and then walked back down the lane,
To chat with a builder, who talked of newcomers,
And how they don’t know what these cottages used to be like,
No piped water, outside privies, no electricity, even in the 60s.
I said I had to get the bus back to Stroud,
He said I should have walked straight down the main road,
It would have been a darn sight quicker,
I said I would have missed his chat then.
I asked him if he thought there might be a memorial inside the church at Edge,
‘It’s a funny thing. I used to think there was something down on the village green.
But there’s nothing there now.
I was born in Edge.
There’s a memorial to my Uncle Jack in the church.
He went down with the Eagle in 1941. Torpedoed.’
We bade farewell as I took the road less taken,
And so to the bus stop.
A car stopped – ‘I’m going to Stroud if you want a lift.’
An elderly gentleman opened the door -
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled,
And that has made all the difference.’

The Church of the Holy Trinity in Stroud made a difference too,
Here there is a mural on one wall:
‘He holdeth our souls in life’,
‘To the glory of God and in memory of the men of the Thrupp
who gave their lives serving the king in the years of our Lord 1914-1919’,
‘Greater love hath no man than this that a man lays down his life for his friend’.
These words lie above and below a fetching and surprising picture -
A curly, golden haired David, sling by his side,
Readying himself for Goliath and the Philistine army in the background -
With the names of the fallen on each side of this allegorical representation.
Opposite this mural is a marble tablet,
‘To the glory of God and in honoured memory’,
Beneath which is a long list of names of the men
‘Of this parish who gave their lives by sea and land
in the cause of justice and honour in the Great War 1914-1919
This tablet is erected by their proud and sorrowing fellow parishioners.’

The afternoon was strange and full of fretful foreshadowing:
The Guardian’s main obituary was for a historian of congregational churches,
And a woman at the bus stop travelling to Gloucester Hospital,
With hot cross buns for the nurses,
Told me how wonderful they had been,
But ‘ They couldn’t do anymore for her husband’;
 I offered her my sympathies
Before making my way to Ruscombe Congregational Church,
To photograph the Ruscombe Chapel Roll of Honour,
‘For King and Country,
‘Brethren Pray For Us.’
Audrey and her colleagues were giving the church a spring clean,
All ready for Easter;
‘Sometimes we’ve had congregations of five,’ she said,
But Audrey was so jolly as I used my I-pad:
‘I was a typist for 33 years but never touched a computer’;
She’d also been a taxi driver and offered to drive me back to Stroud,
But I wanted to explore the old weavers’ tracks,
So I took her photograph as a memento to send to an emigrant friend,
Said my thanks and descended back to Stroud,
Feeling humbled by the way complete strangers
Have welcomed me into their lives,
Whilst on this pilgrimage of Stroud Valley Tales.

This continued on a chilly Easter Saturday:
Ann Simmons was waiting for me at St John the Baptist at Edge,
Ready to dress the church with flowers,
She showed me the memorial and the roll of honour:
‘In Grateful Memory of the Men of Edge and Stockend
Who Gave Their Lives for their Country in the Great War 1914-1919
This Tablet Erected by their Relations and Friends’,
“They loved not their lives unto the death’,
Ann took my picture for the parish magazine,
Then drove me to Painswick,
So that I could catch the bus back to Stroud,
To catch a glance of cowslips lightening the greenery of April.

I went back to Bedford Street Congregational Church
A damp week later, lilac now in bloom, trees in full leaf,
For another jar of their excellent marmalade,
Only £1.50,
And to photograph the memorial in the vastness of the church:
“In Sacred Memory of the Men who gave their Lives in the Great War 1914-1919’,
Names are listed within a cross, centrepiece; rosettes in the corners;
Then, right and left, on folding panel doors:
‘The Following Also Served’,
With two long lists of names beneath the rubric,
One of the names of the fallen stood out in the gloom,
That of HS Park (killed in France, October 1917);
It was Herbert’s father, Sidney, who gave
Park Gardens, on the Slad Road, 10 years later,
In October 1927,
‘To the Town of Stroud for Use as Pleasure Gardens’;
It felt necessary to make my way home via that spot,
And say a silent thank you.

I thought my pilgrimage was close to its end,
But the next day in Mills Café:
‘Have you seen the screen in St. Albans? We saved it.”
‘There’ll always be another one,’ I said.
‘There’ll always be another one,’ she said.
So the delightfully named Reverend Simon Topping met me at St. Albans,
A 1916 Anglican church, now shared with a Methodist congregation,
And told me of the Arts and Crafts influences on the building,
Before showing me the Rood screen,
With small brass commemorations behind:
‘To The Glory Of God
and in memory of
Eccles James Carter Lieut.RN
Who went down in HMS Pathfinder
September 5th 1914
These Chancel Gates were given by Lieut. John Francis Williams
His friend who himself went down
In HMS Russell April 27th 1916’;
Then on the left hand pillar:
‘To The Glory Of God
and in memory of
Eccles James Carter Lieut. RN
Who went down in HMS Pathfinder
September 5th 1914
This Screen Was Erected By His Mother.’
The odyssey was over, it seemed,
But then Simon looked at me and asked,
 ‘Have you been to Cashes Green Chapel yet?’

Two days later, we continued a walk tracking the River Frome,
I photographed a war grave in Edgeworth churchyard:
‘16309 Private SA Stephens, Gloucestershire Regiment,
19th May 1916 aged 28’
And then on May Day when nattering on the way to Bulls Cross,
Becky Thomas mentioned that her family came from Edgeworth,
And that her great-uncle Stephens
‘Is in the churchyard, he was killed in the First World War.’
This was a coincidence worthy of a Thomas Hardy,
But Beck’s tales grew even more interesting:
‘The other side of my family came from Woodchester.
You know the Woodchester memorial up by the Ram.
Both my grand-father and great-uncle lied about their ages.
They were sixteen and seventeen.
After my great-uncle was killed, my great-grandmother wrote to the War Office:
“I’ve lost one of my under-age sons. I want the other one back.”
Her son never forgave her, even thirty years later,
When in the home guard on Selsley Common.’
A few days later, I had to visit Slad again,
On a Cider with Rosie Great War mission,
The sun went behind the clouds
As I scribbled down the names from the memorial,
Before biking down to the parish church,
Past the artists outside Holy Trinity,
To photograph the colourful but doleful and ornate
Roll of Honour:
Private Edward Hogg 1st Glosters Died of Wounds May 1914
Private Harry Hogg South Wales Borderers  Drowned April 16th 1915
Private Albert Geo. Wm. Brown 8th Glosters Killed in action July 5thth 1916
Private Frederick Jesse Fern 6th Glosters Killed in action Sept 4th 1915
Private Lionel Douglas Jack Brown 2nd Worcesters Killed in action Nov 5th 1916
2nd Lieut D. Douglas Leicester 12th Bn. Gloucester Reg. Killed in action May 8th 1917
May they rest in Peace & awake to a Joyful Resurrection
So, only Cashes Green Church remained,
I biked there after work, Simon Topping opened the door,
I photographed the three brass memorial tablets,
Of the roll of honour,
All lovingly polished and shining brilliantly,
In this red brick roadside 1901 chapel in Etheldene Road,
So cherished and nurtured and new,
When those deaths so soon occurred.
I talked with Simon of all the friends made on this pilgrimage,
Of how I would be speaking in Edge Church at their November 9th service,
Of how welcoming and interested so many people have been, are,
And will be - we wondered if this really would be the last one,
But for the moment, I bicycled home along the canal,
May 19th, the sun hot and high in the sky,
The ground hard -earthed, cracked and dry,
Voices gently singing with the wind,
‘We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here,
We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.’
I now conclude  (until the next undiscovered one)
By finishing the lines from Edward Thomas,
Lines from As the team’s head-brass,
From a month ago, on the way to Edge:
‘”… ‘It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.’
‘And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.’ ‘Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good,’ Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.”