Into Battle – Remembrance

Our Creative Writing Group has penned a series of meditations on “Remembrance”

Robert Norfolk
For Liz
2 November 2017

Into Battle

How old is this young man? We don’t know his name let alone his age. What about calling him Jimmy Wardman and his age could be 18 or even less. He has been persuaded either by pressure of publicity or by his own devotion and loyalty to his country to join the army and fight in yet another war. The British Army of 1914 contained no conscripts so he must have considered himself good enough to be part of the 250,000 soldiers.

A major innovation in 1916 was the introduction of steel helmets and based on the artefacts we saw there was a comedy portrait of a soldier wearing a helmet into battle, but when he finally went into battle he totally discarded it. So from his point of view was it useless knowing he was probably going to die anyway? Did Jimmy need to be experienced in horse riding? They were used extensively in the war; yet another futile use of animals. It is said that for every soldier killed there was a horse killed with him. There were many souvenirs or artefacts produced including tea caddies; many were shaped like century boxes with pointed roofs often depicting soldiers in horse riding dress along with a graceful horse, not for long for either of them Jimmy must have thought. He must have been in the trenches long enough to send a card embroided in beautiful silk thread to a Mrs Wardman in Wetherby – probably his Mum or Grandma. Of course, this was subjected to the postal censorship. His words were sad, writing from the rain sluiced trenches sitting in the deep mire probably 12 o’clock midnight on a midwinter’s night. He must have felt a doomed youth with little hope of survival. Wonder if he lived long enough to hear of Edith Cavell’s message (another piece of artefact) stating “I am quite well” even though she knew she was condemned to death in Belgian charged with favouring the invasion of British soldiers.

There was much co-operation during the war between nations, again tea caddies were popular, displaying various national flags alongside each other e.g. English/Belgian, French/Russian. We don’t know what part of the army Jimmy served in but we can imagine him being part of the British Hussars, riding their magnificent horses into battle but still quite sad and uncertain for all those concerned including the horses.

It is hard for Jimmy to portray anything good about this war except the exceptional comradeship amongst his pals. Whether Jimmy was a cavalry man or soldier clambering about in those mud soaked trenches and the smell of his comrades he knew the odds were stacked against him for returning to normal life and, if he was fortunate enough, the memories of the terrible sights and taste of stale food, with cigarette tobacco, would remain with him forever.

The final end for Jimmy was when his parents heard the clatter of the Dead Man’s penny dropping through the letterbox engraved with his name. So sad for his parents knowing what this meant to him and for him the “futility of war”.