Saturday, 26 June 2010

southern ontario



my grampy kirby was in southern ontario when the first world war broke out

near kitchener?

Life was hard in 1912 buckinghamshire / oxfordshire so he came over and got work on a farm here

His letters have lots of detail about how they farm here

And then the war breaks out and

Despite his Uncle Ernest saying

Rather wisely

Don’t come back

He came back to get

Shot in 1914

Shot in 1915

Shot in 1916

And blown up in 1917

He ended up in a blind ward on the Kings Road in London where he was the

only one with a still functioning eye

And in the end they still sent him back to France but the

family created a stink and he got

posted somewhere quiet in Essex

he was ill for years

was never very happy

but got married

had three kids

including my mother

and lived for fifty more years on one kidney

The lettters are quite a thing

All written to his mother

All signed your affectionate son Wille

And all from 1913-17

From canada

and all over southern england and France

And the Med

We found them under his bed after my Uncle John died

Desperately sad really

Every friend he mentions is on the cenotaph in Oakley, where he and then my mother grew up

Which means all his friends died in the war

Including the friends he was farming with in Ontario

When you see there are over 50 names on the cenotaph from 1914-18

Which must have been near 10% of the population of the village

And how there is only one name from 1939-45

You realise why the British were so keen to do a runner from France in 1940

I remember seeing Field Marshal Haig’s grandson, I think

Defending his grandfather

The man who sent ten thousand men to die on the first day at the Somme

And did the same the next three days

And I remember thinking, you’ve got a nerve

What of the hundreds of thousands of grandchildren who never got born because your ancestor sent

Tens of thousands of men to their needless deaths…

While you’re around to open your stupid mouth
it could make you very angry if you let it

1 comment:

  1. Gone On

    you'd meet him at the pub
    cos his house was a wreck
    & i thought: "i'd likely get on
    with old uncle john
    who'd meet his dear ruby so late
    in life at his mates
    (her husband's) service

    so who knew what john knew
    with his house full of heritage
    the markings of time
    the tickings of tocs
    the grandfather clocks and
    under the bed the
    letters in boxes

    and after he's tried but gone on
    the pulling of chains forgotten
    the pendulums swinging unswung
    the hour hands lifted to one
    the minute hand on the half hour hung
    & it's gone quiet

    but for the creak of the box lid
    & the treasures it hid: letters
    in a young man's elegant hand
    scent of foreign soil
    whispered other lands
    and reassurances
    from someone's affectionate son
    safeguarded by john
    now both are long gone