THE GREEN DIARY : Armistice – 11 November 2021

In a few minutes we shall fall silent for two, as we remember.

Five years ago a small group of South African friends visited the Ypres Salient and the Somme for the 100thAnniversary of that terrible battle in that ghastly War-to-end-all-Wars, with emphasis on Delville Wood where so many South Africans died and where there is a beautiful memorial designed by Herbert Baker and where, incredible to relate, I stumbled upon my Great-Uncle Alexander Keay’s name listed as missing during that battle and then found him at Thiepval where we attended the Armistice Remembrances on the 11th November.

Thiepval

An extract from my diary reads:

11.00am.,  11th November, 2016.

Thiepval

It’s a sacred public holiday in France today.

A glorious, sunny day; blue skies but a chilly stillness.

Thiepval is a massive memorial dominating the heights above the Somme River valley and offering a panoramic view of the epic struggle that raged exactly 100 years ago here from July through to November. Our views were perfect : the stillness, the Autumn colours, the mown lawns with the tiny hamlet of Thiepval and its little church backing the monument where we collected with hundreds more for the short ceremony at 11.00am European Winter Time. The Royal Hampshire Constabulary provided a fitting band and a short ceremony, the sashed Mayor of Thiepval saying words which were translated through the British Legion representative……The church clock chimed eleven, the Last Post was played, two minutes silence ensued, then we were at ease. The main event, complete with bilingual prayers, hymns, wreath laying and the band, played out at 12.00 to coincide with ceremonies in Britain at GMT.

Our thoughts went out not only for the Great War warriors but all the millions of fallen in all the wars then and ever since.

It was made all the more poignant for me discovering my great-uncle’s name at Delville Wood the day before. A. Keay. My mother’s maiden name was Keay. At Thiepval this morning amongh the records I found his name:

KEAY, Lance Corporal, ALEXANDER, 228. “C”Coy. 4th Regt., South African Infantry, October 1916. Age 22. Son of Andrew and May Evelyn Keay, of Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. Grave Reference: Pier and Face 4C.

Altogether a very moving moment.

He was Lance Corporal in the South African Infantry and went missing at Wallencourt Butte which we had visited yesterday and where there was such confusion and mayhem that no bodies were ever recovered and the men were listed as missing. And so my mother’s uncle, Alexander Keay, my great-uncle, brother to me grandfather Ralph, went up on the lists without number and has his name carved in section 4C on the memorial.

No one in our family has ever visited him though our grandmother often spoke of him and wept. I immediately phoned my cousin Avril in Johannesburg to share this moment and we were both much moved.

Great Uncle Alexander. Just one personal discovery among millions; for to these places pilgrims come in their thousands, searching for connections, for some understanding of a world gone mad.”

LEST WE FORGET

9 Replies to “THE GREEN DIARY : Armistice – 11 November 2021”

  1. That’s so moving , Peter …Tony and I went to Thiepval some years ago ( we were driving north in France when realised we were about to pass the great memorial , I was reading Birdsong at the time , so it had HUGE appropriateness ) ….what a place , there was only ONE other person there in the vastness ….. x mm

  2. It must have been very moving Pete, how good you found his name and spent time there in contemplating the time and place and rembering him and sharing that with your cousin.

  3. Yes, the 20th Century….
    Oh, how we flourished, grew and revelled in the legacy of those thousands and thousands of men, and women, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the interests of freedom from tyranny and torment!
    ….yet, we successfully fail to realise the futility of that sacrifice because of a regardless attitude we all seem to hold for our own selfish ends!

  4. That’s so moving Pete. I’ve just finished the third term book theme with Gd 6, which is War – they all read a (children’s) book with a background in war. I re-read most of the books so I can be very fair marking their reviews, and even these moderate retellings are heartbreaking. They’re stories from everywhere – WW2 and Afghanistan and so on, but WW1 is definitely the saddest. Imagine being the saddest war 🙁
    big hug

  5. We must never forget. I was moved by your story of such a young man at the start of his life. Like many that dies alongside him.
    I include a lovely passage from a Poem we read at my Creative Writing class this week.

    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    by John Donne

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.

    This poem is in the public domain.

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