Philip Whiteley's Blog

March 14, 2017

Marching on Together excerpt: The Graveside

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 12:06 pm

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 11: Honouring the Fallen, Marching on Together, PJ Whiteley, Urbane Publications 2017

‘Where have you been?’

‘Christmas shopping,’ replied Yvonne.

Christmas shopping?’ Craig asked with astonishment. ‘In August?’

‘I like to be organized. Make an early start.’

‘You don’t appear to have any bags.’

‘Well, it were just window shopping, early reconnaissance.’

‘What’ll you have?’

‘Go on, I’ll have a beer.’

‘What kind?’

‘Surprise me.’

Johnny had texted the venue to Allan, who appeared at around 3.30, looking serious, and mildly disapproving at the casually dressed, mildly tipsy crew.

‘You should be dressed smarter, for the cemetery like,’ he said to Johnny, who wore a vintage Leeds United shirt and blue jeans.

‘All right, Sergeant Major. You going to check my shoes for a good shine as well?’

‘Everything all right with your business lunch?’ asked Petra.

‘Yeah, yeah, sure,’ but Allan scowled in an irritated manner, trying to give the impression that the irritation lay solely at the timing of the inquiry, and not its content.

‘Right, well you lot smarten yourselves up, and sober up, as best you can. We’re off to the cemetery.’

It was a short drive to the Hooge Crater Cemetery, located on the Meenseweg, close to Ieper. They spent a few minutes searching for the name Private J Collins among the 5,922 headstones.

‘Most were killed in 1917 and 1918,’ noted Johnny, as they scanned the engravings. ‘Some from Australia and Canada.’

‘Some of the soldiers buried here were moved from other makeshift small graveyards close to battlefields, including from some battles early in the war,’ said Terry, who had read the guide. ‘So they consolidated into one.’

‘Found it!’ said Johnny, after a while.

They gathered around to look at the stone. ‘4576 PRIVATE J. Collins West Yorkshire Regiment 17TH April 1915’ was all it said.

‘Right, we’ll have a minute’s silence,’ announced Allan. They all stood solemnly, in a half circle, around the grave, staring at the white stone or down at the lush green grass. Yvonne shifted her weight from foot to foot. Craig sensed that Yvonne was ill at ease, and glanced up. A river of tears was rolling down her left cheek and, he supposed, the right cheek also. Before the end of the minute, she lifted a handkerchief to her eyes, and quietly sloped off. She hated the stone; its military coldness, the gun-barrel straight lines and sharp edges of the serifed font; the absence of poetry, or even a Christian name. She had wanted to smother Jack’s grave with flowers, pictures and words of love.

Allan broke the silence by clearing his throat, and then announcing: ‘Well observed, everyone. We can report back to Dad now. I’ll take a photo of the stone to show him.’

He clicked a couple of shots, then said: ‘Was that Yvonne, sloping off before the minute finished?’

‘No, I think she were right upset,’ said Craig.

‘It’s a bit disrespectful, if you ask me,’ said Allan.

‘I’m sure she didn’t mean that. She was crying.’

Allan gave a sceptical snort. Yvonne returned to join the group, slowly sauntering over. Allan said nothing.

 

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