What follows is a revelatory letter and journal found in the estate of my uncle on his decease in May 1973.
This dates from the year 1918 when he was a twenty-two year old Captain in the 1st Battalion of the West Sussex Light Infantry, serving in Flanders. The letter was taken (according to the journal) from the body of a young German officer, killed whilst trying to surrender, by men serving under my uncle's command at the battle of Havrincourt, when the Germans were finally on the retreat.

That he was forever haunted by this episode, is beyond doubt, as his diary entries testify. Also he was cashiered without ceremony, or for his part, with no apparent regret – after an incident in which he deliberately failed to quell the indiscipline, in the Kent holding camp, of soldiers waiting either to be demobbed, or as was rumoured (and subsequently proven correct) to be sent to Russia for further service. The diary entries then abruptly ceased as if my uncle wanted to draw a line under his recent traumas. It was also the end of a promising military career, the circumstances behind which carried a silent, social stigma. Disgrace. And that consequence was one his class of yeomanry was not at all comfortable with because he had crossed a psychological Rubicon. His life from then on would be forever tainted, and perhaps this is why he played so little future part in the public life of that reposing rural community with its long memories and its idle words – half-drawn from Venetian scabbards – ready in an instant to be plunged into the melee of social gossip.

Returning to the comparative ease of a gentleman farmer on the inheritance of land near Chichester, Arthur Trenchard – for such was my uncle’s name – settled into the unhurried routines of country life, kept busy by the need to repair the neglect suffered on the ninety-five acre estate, through the war years. He never married, and had few relationships; none apparently deep. Over the years he acquired a reputation for solitariness and introspection. As children we occasionally visited his village home with its, for us, lavish space, low painted beams and well kept lawns. But it was discredited beauty mixed with a melancholy our young minds couldn't penetrate but which nevertheless exercised a strong restraint on our ebullient spirits. Visiting my uncle was never popular. It seemed to be a place of lingering remorse, or as I later suspected, of an unquiet conscience.

 Why do I mention this? Because at that time in 1973 I was training to be an investigative journalist for a local country rag, and I sensed a story. My editor tentatively agreed.

Arthur’s diary entry for Sept 11th 1918 shows no sign of anything other than idealistic, youthful enthusiasm.

“We are going to test German resolve tomorrow at Havrincourt. The Hun had better be on their mettle, for by God, we're ready to push them all the way back to the Hindenburg Line....and more besides”

…. A sentiment borne out by the subsequent facts. Numerically stronger, the four German divisions defending Havrincourt gave way to an attack by three allied (including one of New-Zealanders).

The following night however shows a more sombre mood. The wording is curt – even critical.

Sept 12th Havrincourt

“Our (62nd) division entered Havrincourt. Hun resolve strangely lacking. Spruce, young Oberleutenant and Junior Non-com, fatally shot whilst trying to surrender to my Company! Trigger-slippery Blighters! Not what one expects of vaunted British discipline. Now on the spot!”
That last exclamation refers to the Company report filed with Headquarters afterwards, where loyalty to his men must have been tempered by some feelings of self-disgust. He is called upon to 'massage' the truth in an effort to hide the identities of the culprits. These German casualties are covered over by a thin layer of words...'The Victims of War', 'The Fallen', convenient euphemisms hiding many things, all of them unpleasant. Useful words. That obviously worked because, elated with victory after years of extreme privation and bloody stalemate, the divisional staff didn't see fit to investigate any further .... But that was not so for my uncle. At this point he obviously started questioning the morality of his calling. The first hint of doubt surfaces shortly before the Armistice in November.


 17th October-Selle

“Burnt into my memory is the face of that young German officer – whom I felt was increasingly familiar; so like my younger brother with his dark, greased hair and close-shaved countenance; so fresh and unprepared for the carnage and brutalism of war. But this enemy at least had inherited some degree of peace upon entry into the Dreams of Forgetfulness in contrast to the hollow greyness staring back at me in the mess-tent mirror.

…. A visage not entirely attributable to sleeplessness and battle stress. On the eve of victory, I am uneasy. A sudden, forced entry into maturity...'You go to war as boys to come back men', perhaps isn't to the World's benefit after all. Nightmares invariably follow”

Before leaving Belgium, Arthur Trenchard tried to exorcise this particular episode ... His diary entry for 4th November indicates a sort of self-psychoanalysis. Knowing victory, his writing at this time is curiously lacking in joy, and there certainly isn't any triumphalism.

4th November-Sambre

“I have been having unsettling dreams in which my identity swaps with the German....

Amidst a sea of poppies: lemon, vermilion, pink, orange and white, he stood, gently bent in my direction, seemingly studying the plants. With a start I saw his hooded eyes were in fact fixedly observing me; grey, cold, wry, but with more than a hint of compassion too. That brief dream-scape appeared to define a moment of time (The Captain’s emphasis) that spoke for all eternity: My eternity; my future. At which point I perceived myself in a corner of this small floral tableau, hesitant and uncertain, anchored by self-pity. Was this, my conscience looking, he at himself from within myself? I struggled to make some conscious sense of this dream which recurred several times, but my spirit laboured under a cloud, which logical reality couldn't – at that time – penetrate. But I sensed that a precious part of my humanity (perhaps too my sanity) -  that which defines our separation from animal predators – was dead, and now I really was a soldier trapped to relive that incident or to bury it, like many of my brothers-in-arms, by assuming the parade-ground mask. The regimental mantle. Duty! Not for the last time did I question the nature of corpses. Who was really dead?

This state of confusion must pass if my life is to have any future meaning. It won't be a military future though. Disillusionment is a bitter pill to swallow at the age of 22; the knowledge that you were wrong; that I made the wrong decision in 1917 to join this army; to cross over into fields of death. But then ... perhaps some restitution is possible. I see a task that I can perform clearly and without ambiguity. I will not allow 'him' to become just another empty statistic for though dressed in the field-grey of our adversary, my German officer it seemed to me, was deserving of some honest restitution.

My uncle had clearly descended into soliloquy even to the extent, one feels, of indulging a dangerous empathy. Long vigils in the trenches of Flanders had taken their toll, as perhaps the waiting families back here knew they would. That was the most poignant episode of this long struggle. The army of strangers returning to towns and villages where death and mayhem didn't await behind every barn or across every road. Husbands, fathers and lovers, barely recognised by kin, nevertheless uncomfortably settling back into old habits; chairs, beds.                                                                                                                                                   

So I knew my uncle’s state of mind. It was clear enough. However two expressions caught my attention. Why use the possessive pronoun, 'my' in his diary entry from the 4th November, and secondly, what was the task alluded to?

Well quite simply; this. It transpired the young captain of infantry had taken a handwritten note from the clenched hand of the German corpse, thinking perhaps, naturally enough, this to be intelligence useful to the allied cause. Junior officers were trained in that sort of procedure. But upon later inspection Arthur clearly saw that this was an informal letter to a female relative or close friend called 'Hati'  followed by the signature, 'Hans'. His schooling had enough German to embrace that obvious fact, but possessing names suddenly revealed the human face of his adversary which came as a shock – much like a spot-light picking out unwelcome details in the dark.                                                                              

“Possessing this letter has imposed an obligation on me that wasn't sought, but which fate has entrusted me with –  to deliver to its rightful owner in the hope that forgiveness and redemption may one day bring our countries closer. That is my honourable intention after this frightful conflict ends ... Yes, it is shuddering to its close ... along with the new and sinister tanks that are creeping with Wellsian prescience ever eastward"


That of course was a 'marked' future, one nobody wished to speculate about just then. But nevertheless, Arthur's words did carry an element of unconscious prediction, just as the novels of Wells and Verne were to prove technologically correct. And in using “my,” Arthur felt himself more closely identified with a moral purpose equal to his sense of honour, but also, very much then, to his personal inclination as an equal. So why didn't he proceed with this letter's delivery (even more, why did he retain it?) He possessed an address clearly visible at the top of the page and knew the correct military practice.

Just before my uncle's death in 1973, at the eminent age of 87, I received an unexpected invitation to visit Whitestones, his country home in Eartham about six miles North-East of Chichester and the site of our childhood visits. Not having had more than polite family contact over preceding years, this came as a surprise, but I duly went and sat opposite a frail caricature of former years (he was still smartly dressed in Paisley cravat and twill as if appearance, like old habits, had succumbed to distant values, now rather quaint).

However my uncle's greeting was hale enough and we sat down to tea and scones in the conservatory, served by Mrs Bennet, the long-time housekeeper. After some small talk concerning the welfare of my family, he soon assumed a more businesslike air, asking me if I would agree to be executor of his will, when the time came ... He qualified this suggestion by insisting that though young, he thought me best competent –  knowing as he did my career predilection (and surprisingly my education). He thought me the most sympathetic of his surviving relatives and I could hardly refuse the old man's request though flattery was somewhat tempered by misgiving. I had no experience of this sort of thing, but nevertheless signed the relevant documents.

Eleven months later, however, these reservations were tested by the realities of my agreement, and the unexpected time needed to settle my uncle's estate. In the course of going through his personal effects I found many things pertaining to his life, but it was the written materials, surfacing into my curious hands, which eventually proved to be of real value for they revealed the secret, inner thoughts and anguished musings of a man, who whilst still relatively young, considered himself partly dead already. Which part of himself I will let you, the reader of this magazine article, be the judge.

I will start with a page taken verbatim from a more recent journal – which may or may not have been intended for something else – found in my uncle's desk. That I'd 'discover' it, together with his wartime diary, was, I am certain, intended.

Journal entry for the 9th May 1953

Huge amounts of work on my estate; new investments in buildings and meat production, but above all the constant quest for good, reliable workers, kept me perennially busy, between the Wars on the land of my forefathers. My unquiet memories of 1918 were slowly absorbed back into the all-embracing forgiveness (or indifference) of our native soil.

Time passed but in 1953 at the age of 57, and after another fierce conflict that claimed my beloved brother, Mark, I had become rather withdrawn, increasingly taking myself off with the dogs for long rambles and introspection, in our slowly evolving countryside. The Southern Downs were on my doorstep and offered wide vistas of soft rolling hills and walking, perfect for my sparse frame that had thankfully maintained some trim wiryness.

Going through old documents one day with the intention of clearing out unwanted family detritus, “my” letter resurfaced unexpectedly, proving that coincidence may indeed prompt fate. And change. Old emotional wounds were reopened, but now to a new, and very different world.

Having settled down to an ordered, comfortable routine, in which the passing days offered little other than the predictability of the seasonal calendar inherent in the life of a rural community (and never having married), the emotional stress within those few lines of German, struck with renewed force.

My failure to embrace an apparently simple task, thirty-five years ago, and to see it through, was an unforgivable lapse that could only bring shame and dishonour to myself. This, and the circumstances surrounding my acquisition of the letter, brought back unpleasant memories that could only torment me, with a realisation very bitter to my taste. No longer young, they also brought a sense of powerlessness mixed with certain feelings of personal futility and self-pity. Why?

Well for one thing, it was apparent 'my' German officer had lived, for all his youth in 1918, a fuller life than his adversary thirty-five years on!  This was the plain, insufferable truth that seemed to be strangling any lingering self-esteem I had once possessed. Not for the first time did I ask, who was the victor in that cruel, arbitrary encounter, when the rule of law fell silent, to the gun's roar. Pitiless bridge to my heart, you are speaking to an older, frailer being whose organ beats more slowly, but whose memories and unfulfilled aspirations are like yesterday. It seemed my life was one long ennui!

Later, I peer into the future of our brave new world and take some satisfaction from my certainty that the “Englishness” of now and of my father’s generation will be swept into the history books. A vengeful – or perhaps comforting thought. A world where the peoples of the old empire, as with all empires, will come knocking to claim their lost inheritance – citizenship – and in so doing change our world for good. But that was yet to come. In 1953 with the Coronation of Elizabeth we were proud and even optimistic about a new dawn. We listened to Britten; to Vaughan Williams, to Betjeman. We laughed with Bates and Maughan....We whispered Larkin. We saluted mountaineers and Olivier. But in hindsight, this brave new Commonwealth of nations and its culture was really just a re-hash of the old, with Britain trying to keep its grip on large chunks of the world; its influence and its trade. But too late. Britain like its sex life, was a land of secrets, draped in an over-long raincoat shortly to be exposed to the world at Suez. A dying sham, this sun was really setting quickly, like my heart....Was it the ancient Greeks who said of life that it wasn't worth living without tragedy? If so that seems truer now than in 1918. Irony? Or is the weight of  history finally settling like a counter on a roulette wheel, here, now? One senses something of the sort in the very quietness of this land .... But perhaps after all it is all just me, old age appearing on my face with the neat lines and furrows of my fields and the acceptance of a life of habit (My dogs tell me as much). The will to argue – even less the will to change – has passed me by, though I and my fellow Englishmen are not fools like Canute. We know about ebb and flow.                  

I await my personal judgement without rancour, and already sense, what (and who) awaits. What follows is the Oberleutenant's last letter to his girlfriend. They are the words of an ordinary man elevated by circumstance, to poetic expression. A mirror held up to humanity and an urgent wake-up call to our nation that is still suffused by the “culture of war.” I entrust this to the mercies of my future generation and family, with faith that Right will prevail.

At this point – as I need to explain – my uncle had translated accurately, the letter from German, into English as part of his journal. But for me, that brought problems. I had already decided that 'right' would prevail, but realised immediately that to publish this letter as an intrinsic part of  a magazine article, required copyright permission. There-in lay a dilemma. Searching and obtaining the necessary goodwill from Hans's surviving kin, whilst most desirable, as my uncle clearly intended – wouldn't be easy. And it would take time.

Fortunately my editor was sympathetic, and agreed to a postponement of the article. He also put me in touch with the German War Graves Commission, as an initial, but important, step. This Volksbund, as it is called, is highly organised and efficient, so identified almost immediately the grave in Belgium where Hans lies. After satisfying them as to my motives and credentials they then passed on the address of his surviving family. This, it transpired, was his younger brother, Karl, who was only 13 in 1918 and therefore took no part in that conflict.
He and his family lived at the same place in Hachenberg and with the aid of a translator, I wrote several times (with some nervousness) explaining firstly the circumstances surrounding the letter, and secondly what I wanted to do. Within five weeks I had his permission. The question of Hati on the other hand was altogether more difficult, and I had at this point to employ the services of both the Dept of State Pensions and a local history society to ascertain her post WW1 movements. Indeed I couldn’t be sure she still lived, but with the additional help of the translation dept at Chichester College, over several months, I was able to put the remaining jigsaw pieces together.                    

Shortly after the Armistice, in an effort to assuage her grief, Hati, still only just nineteen, moved to the nearby urban centre of Siegen, where she worked as a milliner, until marrying a local engineer of farming machinery, Jan Zurgel, in the Spring of 1923. They settled into one of the more prosperous suburbs of Seigen and had two children, Hans and Gretchen. However, with the ferment, both political and economic, of life under the Weimar Republic, and the rise of the Nazis, this marriage didn't last and she was left, in 1935, alone with her children, in this rather forgotten suburb of Siegan. The only point of note, at this time, (and one could guess it may have contributed to the split) was that she joined the Quaker movement (the QHS) which went underground during the militarism and hysteria of the period leading up to the 2nd WW. This became necessary for obvious reasons, to escape the persecution and social stigma of anyone with anti-nationalist sympathies, who were also “Citizens of Conscience” and opposed to war. It carried considerable risk, because if found she would have been sentenced to a labour camp or worse.

Given the paranoid nature of those times she may also have had to conceal her “sympathies” from her own children. Spying and inter-communal denouncements were rife, and these children would definitely have been candidates for the Hitler Youth or BMD. However her luck held and she was spared further trauma, though survival of a more basic kind couldn't have been easy immediately after the war and the partition of Germany into East/West. Food and simple commodities were in short supply, though she – and millions like her – benefited from US aid, and the restoration of democracy, and law.

Now aged 75 Hati was still living at the same address, and upon a brief exchange of letters in 1974 I determined to call upon her in person. In this undertaking I was lucky and our meeting was unexpectedly free of angst, or guilt. She maintained an open and blameless attitude, coupled with an eager and even luminous response to my questions, which made me far more defensive than herself. Questions about my uncle prompted understanding words of sympathy and comfort whilst a fading, brownish photograph of Hans (out of uniform) evoked a wistful response on my inquiry. Significantly this was mounted and framed on the mantle alongside photos of her children, but none of her husband. (I was right in my surmise concerning their break-up. He had joined the Nazi Party in 1937 and became an enthusiastic supporter of 3rd Reich policy. She told me without regret that he'd been killed in one of many bombing raids by the Allies on Siegan in 1944.) She lived now for the friends who had given her much support during and after the war, and though, obviously now alone, seemed positive and at peace with herself. Upon handing her Hans’ original letter, with considerable respect, like a visiting emissary from a distant land, she thanked me, with averted eyes, saying politely,“Ich werde das privat spater zu lesen, wenn du nichts dagegen hast. Es wareine lange zeit.” (I will read this privately, later if you don't mind. It's been a long time.)

I nodded agreement, after the translator from the local genealogical society, who had accompanied me, made this pronouncement. Shortly after we left, and having gained permission to print my story, her last dignified words echoed with me back to the haze enshrouded shores of Essex:

“In the interests of further understanding between our countries, but mostly to share in the youthful love of a bygone age now resurrected unexpectedly, like a phoenix, I willingly and enthusiastically endorse your magazine article. May brotherhood and peace be ever our watchword.”

This rather formal statement was the green light I needed and publication could now proceed quickly. So in late Sept 1974, my article featured fully in “The Downs” journal to generally favourable reviews. Normally a bastion of rural, English values, the story was off-beat enough to furnish my editorial department with many weeks of work, answering all the letters sent in expressing the public interest. Some (a small minority) thought it was “unpatriotic”, though the main consensus thought it heralded a more modern, “educated” reflection of 70s society. The same week saw a slightly abbreviated version in the Chichester and Worthing Gazette, which excited similar comment...

All of this earned me credibility in the eyes of my peers, and approbation from my employer who saw this modest success as a vindication of his own judgement. My future journalistic career began to take shape from that moment.
Hans’ original 1918 letter to Hati Frieburg now concludes this personal piece of family history from WW1 and its redemptive possibilities .             


Dearest Hati,
                      soon we shall be joined in love. Our battalion leave is due shortly, but I must write, for these thoughts of you cannot wait, the physical embrace.

….Tortured thoughts Hati, that cannot survive here (where nothing good grows) but which in the forests and rivers of Westerwald Kreis, may fall on fertile soil. Pray they will!

How are you coping with the food shortages in the Homeland? Our own field kitchens are not as productive as they once were and many men are grumbling about the quality of either the bread or the evening stew; the latter of which doesn't bear close examination !

It seems to me, survival is a womanly art, which is to say, the feminine instinct to nurture and commune in peace and security, are the ones best adopted, by the wise!

Which implies, correctly, that we here are not.

Not all women do, or will, necessarily follow that model, and history tells us as much; however survival is closely associated, by we poor soldiers, to what is lacking: namely the civilising nature of the feminine, which once having lifted Europe out of naked militarianism and the brutality of the warlord in the Middle Ages, resurfaces now in this frightful anomie

You see these increasingly young faces conscripted from schools and academies who have hardly started shaving yet, left here wondering why they are shouldering arms in what, by now, they know is a lost cause.
No amount of inculcation or parade ground discipline can prepare young men for what happens here, the savagery of conflict – not in defence of a Motherland – but in defence of those basic parts that confer regeneration and Lord Hanuman's mischievous arts! Young boys, become men, and then boys again!
Sometimes you imagine these youthful recruits sporting sets of shimmering milky wings. Those who one senses will fly prematurely 'elsewhere'. Befriending such is impossible Hati, which itself is an aberration within humanity, caused by this mess, that no-one knows how to end. We are simply redefining what it is to be 'barbarians' which is probably an insult to the term. Even the shared emotional warmth of commonality is denied here.

The Flemish painter Bosch shows this “chaos” to us so well, where all is fragmented and disconnected. Perhaps that is it: war is simply a breakdown of communication; the random ricochet and torn dreams enmeshed in barbed-wire heresy. We can but hope that love is a set of wings Hati, and these senseless sacrifices have a higher purpose for Germany and a changing world. A better world.

If love is blind, as is often maintained, then so is God. We here cannot delude ourselves otherwise.
….when we see Goya's sightless Saturn gobbling his own children arbitrarily.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
Such is the nightmare our generals and statesmen have to find a way out of. Waning night gives way to grey dawn, eventually, as we retrace our eager steps, eastward past the satiated giant who bestrides this shattered land! These are our earnest prayers... But then the Devil they say, is in the detail, and truth is outweighed by the very momentum of this war ..., now far beyond rational explanation.

Our choices include a set of wings my darling, where we are defined by our abilities and opportunities to “fly”.
The analogy is plain; flying has always symbolised human freedom, but now it also carries a literal urgency; the need to get up and look beyond our social mores, to look over a crumbling wall, at the possibility of a new beginning. I am talking about us of course, but also of Germany as a liberal democracy. (And oh, now I've placed myself in a subversive no-mans-land which will never evade the vigilance of our unit censor! Since a court-martial is not my intention perhaps I can dare to whisper, this is the rhetorical letter that I can deliver in person?)
This will end as suddenly as it began. The dreams of glory left to unravel, or rot, in the dust whilst honest men cast off night’s cloak, the grey uniform; and try to make sense of the monstrous shadow that will inevitably haunt them, as much in life at home, as here, now.

                                                                                                                                                                     Finally, when that time comes (which won't be soon enough to we poor burrowing creatures) I will return to your limbs and we will bask on the banks of old Nister just above the proud Wasserfall in our beautiful Rhineland; our feet – and maybe more – joining the watery spore. This in remembrance of our student days, and to hell with whom may be watching!....How I ache with those memories, the sun languidly peeping through somnolent branches to dapple our pale skin which is then tautened unexpectedly by a startling flash of blue and orange streaking through the air, as a kingfisher quivers, arrow-like, along the river. Those memories are sacred Hati, because they are the hope for the future. Our world; our paradise. We must relive this past without fear even when we grow older – in order not to. Please never let us descend into “decency”, rather let us ascend into the mud to wallow in its natural beneficiency.

Let us shed all vestiges of pomposity to embrace that great mystery at the heart of nature; its rhythms so meaningful when young, and so implacable when old. We must believe that we are living the present moment on this lump of earth (no irony intended, though to many ears here, this statement is full of pathos) knowing that we have lived, and shall live forever in everything …. Knowing.

You and I must grasp this simple truth and live it wherever we settle.

Here I am surrounded by many brave men, if, as I believe (without incongruity for these men have my respect) bravery is doing that which they don't believe in. We ceased long ago believing otherwise. Most of us now just want our stolen youth back!
….So until we link arms and stomp the boards at the local beergarten, to the sound of our simple country bands; where laughter and fellowship reign supreme, and the jug each carries is the nectar that we give in troth with crossed arms, I reach out to you, on these wings of love.

Your everlasting and loyal Hans.

Then follows an address: Frau H Frieburg, 23 Ebanstrasse, Hachenburgh, Westerwaldkreis, Westphalia.


The magazine article concerning this particular episode of my uncle’s life wasn’t the end of the story, because it had an unforeseen consequence – small in itself – but personally significant and worthy of inclusion as a late entry in the family history.
It's 11am and I'm at St Martin’s annual Service of Remembrance with my seven year old grandson, Daniel.
The year is 2011 – a not so brave decade in which old mistakes seem to be resurfacing everywhere.

I am now fifty-nine and coming to the end of a busy working life, during which my career as a journalist, having flourished, sees me now settled into a freelance role, licensed to Reuters. A desk job.

My thoughts about my uncle’s behaviour remain ambiguous. It was fundamentally a private matter between him and his conscience that was destined for the light of day ... and a wider audience by default. Then, as is sometimes the case, the “ripples” from his narrative having travelled far, lodged in my own unconscious to gestate – until an appropriate re-birthing moment.
I am far from the rather young idealist of 1973, and with two marriages and several informal relationships behind me, I perceived that emotional and sexual jealousy must have played some part in my uncle’s failure to resolve the “letter” issue, during his lifetime. At least I thought it a strong probability because he was a product of a strict Edwardian upbringing and its stifling attitude to sexuality for both men and women.               
Obviously exceptions existed, dependent on one’s background, education and opportunities, but my uncle was unabashedly the result of the middle-class moral consensus, which was both repressive and conservative.                                                                                                                                                                        
Jealousy of his adversary, and of a love he could never share (certainly in the frank admissions and language of Hans’ letter) must have had a demoralising impact which could only have baffled and depressed Arthur.

Such feelings were as irrational as the conflict itself, indicating a developmental superiority in the German that reached out to Arthur from beyond the grave, like a recipient of brotherly scorn!

Such behaviour pre-dated the more liberated generational divides of my generation, but in my uncle’s case, how much this tainted his love-life and relationships with women, I can only surmise. Other, unseen, aspects of his character may have contributed ...

The November weather is uncharacteristically warm and a lower sun sent shafts of light diagonally into the central nave, producing a heightened, theatrical effect. The shadowy half-light elsewhere suggested a more cave-like interior, further enhanced by the ancient stone pillars on either side. St Martin’s was a tall structure, deliberately designed to abnegate human scale. Today it also seemed to reject both intelligence and free will, and I had a growing sense of unease and claustrophobia.

I had never considered myself religious, but like thousands of my fellow Englishmen, paid occasional lip-service to the ritualised nature of church attendance for reasons I've never been able to adequately explain.
My usual excuse encompassed the comforting, animal-like psychology of being part of something larger than oneself (not necessarily a bad thing in itself); or a feeling that some element of ritualised behaviour was good for the young.

My disquiet deepened as if a large body – a terracotta army in fact -  had decided to shift weight, en masse, in the underworld, thus causing a minor seismic movement above, on terra firma – or in some deep recess of my own consciousness.

Was I the only person present to feel this. Obedient complicity today seemed an impossibility.

The Reverend Lightfoot intoned his blessing for the fallen, which never varied, except that today, a new dimension was added....                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

“….To the men on active service now we extend our prayers for a safe return, in the sure and certain belief in God’s mercy and our repose within the faith of his son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” 

This struck me unequivocally as a subtle variation on the blessing of guns by high ranking clergymen and the regurgitated pith from 1914-18; bringing spontaneous indignation to myself and an instant retort. I rose to my feet.

“Sir! This sounds suspiciously like an endorsement of the military calling, and the politicising of an Anglican service. That has worrying implications, linked as it is to past folly, where guns and ammunitions were blessed in the name of our faith, by men such as yourself. For shame, I can have no further part in this hypocrisy!”

A pin could be heard to drop as my abrupt movement caused the pew to scrape, like an exploding grenade in the stunned silence that followed. “....And what of the enemy fallen; not to mention civilians? Do they not have an equal call on our Christian charity? I'm sorry if this upsets anyone here today but I can no-longer sit back and have you anaesthetize my own sensibilities and common-sense; even less the unformed minds of a new generation,” indicating with my arm Daniel, sitting forlornly to my right.
We made to leave conspicuously through the packed church. Heads turned as we did so: some in irritation; a few openly hostile, but others clearly indicating solidarity or sympathy with myself daring to question the religious authority (or perhaps I provided a much-needed diversion). It was as if I had pronounced at a marriage ceremony to the question, “If anyone present knows of any lawful impediment why these two should not be married”..... “YES, they're both already married!"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           “Paul, if you resume your seat I'll be happy to talk to you later”, came the conciliatory response from the Reverend. He clearly thought I was ill.

“No, I'm sorry. This has been going on for far too long. A supposedly secular society cannot continue to express a religious nationalism which is also contrary to its own teachings. You need to address these contradictions. I'm doing so now.”

Outside, I took a deep breath. Daniel, looking surprisingly relieved, asked, “What does 'anes-let-ties' mean?” to which I answered distractedly, as best I could. I also told him that we were now moral pariahs – church outcasts; men of conscience. He looked excited (his last comment made me smile. “Now that we're 'pariars', does that mean we get to roar?) but his parents, predictably, were less so. In fact they were horrified and reacted as if I was some sort of deviant adolescent sent to subvert 'their' Daniel.

….I did my best to live up to their expectations.

                                                   Paul Trenchard


                                                  A short story by Paul Ellis May 2011/12

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