He died so I might live, right? Why is it that instantly I hear that line I am minded of another, a greater line - no, not 'the poetry is in the pity' but Owen's later suggestion that the line 'pro patria mori' is in fact a lie. I think it was a lie fed to my uncle. He died. I live. What can I do but remember. Problem is I'm remembering a man who I never met.
BUT in one respect I have 'met' him. I fell heir to a bunch of letters he wrote home to his mother between 1942 and 1944 and two albums of photographs (water-damaged... family legend has it they were retreived from the 'sinking ship.')
This year's Edinburgh ebook festival (which kicks off on 4th August and runs till 3rd September) has the theme History and Homecoming and is fairly heavily 'into' remembrance. Thus I have been doing something long overdue which is prepping my great-uncles writing into an ebook and probably a 'gallery' online of his photos.
It's an exasperating experience this 'remembering'. First of all it's been very difficult to 'pin things down;' and in the process I've discovered loads of family 'legends' that may not exactly be the literal 'truth' and now there's no family members left to ask. And secondly, it's very difficult to get at 'the truth' in terms of information. As an example: according to records, the ship David served on HMLI HQ 185 actually sank twice! ???? It's recorded as sinking on 6th June ,but I have a letter from him written 'off coast of France' dated 12th June and then there is record of the ship sinking on 25th June (which seems a bit more accurate) Only four bodies were 'buried' and those in France/Belgium (sorry my geography ain't good) For my great uncle and the others, they are commemorated as MPK (Missing presumed Killed) at Chatham. It's annoying, but imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for his mother - she heard a last letter from David on 12th and his last words were
' Look after yourself
P.S. On the whole I’m have a dam good time so don’t worry about me. D.
This was followed more than a month later by the 'official' telegram:
[POST OFFICE TELEGRAM 29 JUL 1944
PRIORITY CC MRS A SAUNDERS 1 FLATS POWER TCE KENSINGTON W11
REPORTS RECEIVED STATES THAT YOUR SON DAVID SAUNDERS LATE C/FX 83787 IS MISSING ON WAR SERVICE SYMPATHY IS EXPRESSED IN
YOUR ANXIETY LETTER FOLLOWS SHORTLY COMMODORE ROYAL NAVAL BKS CHATHAM
That's it. He died so we might live. So we might be free. Now I know that I'm too young to fully appreciate all what we were fighting for in 2nd World War, but I'd happily take a bit less freedom so that he might have lived. In my research i just keep understanding more and more HOW MANY BLOODY PEOPLE WERE KILLED. And I'm sorry, I can't help but think it's a waste.
But the least we can do is remember. Not just on rememberance day, not just on D-Day, but truly, at the going down of the sun and in the morning EVERY DAY.
I know it's hard for folks to deal with this sort of thing unless they have a personal connection. My family story is just my family. But you have families of your own. It's said that everyone was touched by The Great War - losing family members. How much do we know of them? How much of those in the 2nd World War (or later)?
As i said, the ebook festival this year will be 'remembering' and I still have a few 'slots' left for 'personal rememberances' of family members who served and died (or survived, or were pacifists) in any war/conflict. I'm looking for personal pieces - with pictures if possible - of around 1000 words (no big ask for writers or even non-writers) It's a chance for you to put your own 'remembering' into a public context, which I feel all these 'ordinary' people whose lives were affected or ended by war, at least deserve once in history. All you have to do is to send in your piece (preferably by 30th June but I can hang on till end 1st week July) to email@example.com and put 'we remember' in the subject line and I'll do my best to fit it into the programme.
And if you genuinely cannot come up with any kind of 'family' remembering, then do at least take some time out during that month to visit the ebook festival and find out some of the other ordinary 'stories' of those insignificant heroes who died so that we might fart around on the internet.