In Remembrance Of Me

(A footnote to the extended Festival of Remembrance that’s been taking place over the last week or so.)

I’ve recently been reading (or partly re-reading) “Vanished World“, the first part of the autobiography of the Northamptonshire author H.E. Bates (b. 1905).  I came across this:

“even a child couldn’t escape the eventual insufferable gloom of the holocaust that every morning was reflected in the long columns of the dead, wounded and missing that darkened every newspaper and still more intimately in the little mourning shrines set up in every street with their own lists of agonies and pitiful jam jars of flowers”

and a little later:

“the effect of those long, black, mortifying lists of killed, wounded and missing that filled column after column of every morning newspaper had made a searing impression on me that has never left me; nor can I ever forget the little improvised street shrines decorated, as one still often sees in little Italian cemeteries, with faded photographs of the dead and a few jam jars of fading flowers.”

He provides a sketch of one of these “street shrines”:


We still see these “street shrines” today, of course, (with their “pitiful jam jars of flowers”) when someone – particularly a young person – has died unexpectedly or violently; I think I remember (at about the time of the death of Diana Spencer) a rash of newspaper articles condemning them as somehow cheaply sentimental and un-English.  I’ve never shared that sentiment, but would have guessed that they were a recent phenomenon, so I was surprised to find them cropping up in that least Latin of locations, Rushden, during the First World War.  I can’t remember, either, them being mentioned in other accounts of the War or pictured in drama, but it’s unlikely they were unique to Northamptonshire.

“Remembrance” is a high-flown word (the “anamnesis” of the Eucharist, Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Proust) and is appropriate to the commemoration of events that no-one living can now remember, but to understand, on a human level, what it was like to lose a child, a school friend, I think we need to imagine, not remember and look to those little “street shrines”.  “Remembrance” may look like a sea of ceramic poppies, but raw grief looked and looks like a pitiful jam jar of flowers, a bunch of garage shop roses.

Comprehension Test

Fairfield Road March 2014

Read carefully the following passage, taken from a speech by the writer J.M. Barrie (delivered to the Australian Test XI and others in 1926).

“Let us not forget, especially at this time, that the great glory of cricket does not lie in Test Matches, nor county championships, nor Sheffield Shields, but rather on village greens, the cradle of cricket.  The Tests are but the fevers of the game.  As the years roll on they become of small account, something else soon takes their place, the very word may be forgotten; but long, long afterwards, I think, your far-off progeny will still of summer afternoons hear the crack of the bat, and the local champion calling for his ale on the same old bumpy wickets.

It has been said of the unseen army of the dead, on their everlasting march, that when they are passing a rural cricket ground the Englishman falls out of the ranks for a moment to look over the gate and smile.  The Englishman, yes, and the Australian.  How terrible if those two had to rejoin their comrades feeling that we were no longer playing the game!

Q1) Provide a brief summary of the meaning of this passage and describe briefly your feelings about it.  Do you think the date is particularly significant?

Here are two comments about the passage by later writers:

“He spills over into mawkish excess.”1

Q2A)  Do you think this is a reasonable comment?  Would you agree that the passage is “mawkish” or excessive? Give reasons.

Q2B) The author goes on to say: “The ranks of the unseen dead were soon to be unnaturally swollen.” Given the date of the passage, do you find this puzzling?

“Like many inter-war cricket writers, Barrie’s speech positions the contemporary practice of Test cricket within a broader discourse of cultural crisis by defining it as little more than a part of ephemeral modernity. Against this fallen image of impermanence, village cricket signifies sameness, not only through history, but across geographical space, a quality that endows this auratic English locale with an imperial dimension.  This generic location possesses not only an ability to transcend imperial space, but can enforce a diachronic conformity in which past and present merge into one.  The aesthetic space of the rural cricket field can thus imaginatively obviate the violent separations of war.  Such synoptic imperial imagery had specific resonances at this time.”2

Q3A) Provide brief definitions of “auratic”, “diachronic” and “synoptic“.

Q3B) Do you feel that you have learned anything about cricket (as distinct from the British Empire) by reading this?

Q4) If you happened to be passing a rural cricket field, do you think you would break ranks to look over the gate?  If so, do you think you would smile?

Q5) Do you understand now? Comprendo? Comprenez-vous?

(1. Derek Birley, A Social history of English cricket.)

(2. Anthony Bateman, Cricket, literature and culture : symbolising the nation, destabilising Empire.)

With The Benefit Of Hindsight … : Looking forward to a new season

A month or so before the season starts, which ought to be a time for cautious optimism.  Here we see our local groundsman optimistically mowing the pitch during a brief spell of sunshine last weekend, before the foul weather returned.

Little Bowden Rec

It is also traditionally a time for cautious pessimism about the future of County Cricket.

Would anyone care to hazard a date for this (from “The Times“)?

County Cricket on Trial

From A Correspondent

The cricket season proper opened quietly on Saturday, and the very fact that several counties are changing their usual programme and starting games on Wednesdays and Saturdays, instead of Mondays and Thursdays, proves that the public are, at last, to be recognised rather than the players.  Whether the experiment makes for the good of the game is a moot point; and whether it will “draw” the apparently reluctant public is another.

This season sees county cricket trembling in the balance, for without popular support it must die.  Cricket is voted dull nowadays because there are not the overwhelming personalities on every county side that spectators have been accustomed to in great matches.

Unfortunately, at the present moment there does not seem to be the same “county spirit” as there used to be.  Perhaps it is owing to the fact that people have to work more strenuously than they had to 20 years ago.  They are still keen to know how the cricket of the day is going, but they do not turn up in numbers, and numbers mean gate-money, and gate-money means everything to a county.

First class cricket is no spectacular game now; nor can it ever be again … “

And so on.  With a few minor tweaks, it could be from any Spring in the last hundred years, but is actually from May 1914.  But, however gloomy “A Correspondent” may have felt about the future of County Cricket at the time of writing, what wouldn’t he have given to have been in a position to write something similar the following year and what a joy it must have been to be able to settle down in the Spring of 1919 to bash out once again his old familiar Jeremiad! (“2 Day Cricket Not the Solution!“)

Having said that, not all Cricket Correspondents allowed the small matter of a World War to interrupt their enjoyment of the game, as this curious photograph demonstrates.  This is the irrepressible E.H.D. Sewell, sometime ghost to W.G., inventor of leg-slip and author of “Rugger : the man’s game“.  The original caption reads “The author – muzzled at last!  A memory of 1916, when we were told to take gas masks (?) to matches.”

"Muzzled at last!" E.H.D. Sewell (1916)

(I have to say that doesn’t look much like a gas mask to me, or at least not a very effective one.  Only goes to show the lengths some people will go to get a game of cricket, I suppose.)

In Memoriam : The Rowing Clubs Of Nottingham

It’s something of a truism that the sheer scale of British losses in the Great War makes them hard to comprehend : only when they are broken down to human scale (towns, villages, families) are our imaginations able to grasp the extent of the calamity.  This War Memorial is situated on Trent Bridge in Nottingham

View from Trent Bridge

I pass it often on my way over the Trent to the cricket ground and it never fails to stop me in my tracks.

Nottingham Rowing Clubs

It is dedicated “to the glory of God and in grateful memory of the members of the four rowing clubs of this City who died for their Country in the Great War”.

Four rowing clubs, fifty-six dead.  Imagine.

Consecration, by E.W. Hornung : A Poem For Remembrance Sunday

E.W. Hornung
Children we deemed you all the days
   We vexed you with our care:
But in a Universe ablaze,
   What was your childish share?
To rush upon the flames of Hell,
  To quench them with your blood !
To be of England’s flower that fell
   Ere yet it break the bud !
And we who wither where we grew,
   And never shed but tears,
As children now would follow you
   Through the remaining years ;
Tread in the steps we thought to guide,
   As firmly as you trod ;
And keep the name you glorified
   Clean before man and God.
Hornung, the author of Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman, was an occasional versifier.  Most of his verse was inspired by the Great War.  Oddly, in the light of the ambivalence (verging on cynicism) of the Raffles books towards the idea that cricket was the embodiment of the Englishman’s moral code, he began by writing some fairly awful War-as-the-Great-Game-type stuff, for instance –
The Schools take guard upon a fierier pitch
    Somewhere in Flanders.
Bigger the cricket here;  yet some who tried
    In vain to earn a Colour while at Eton
Have found a place upon an England side

    That can’t be beaten !

His son Oscar, who had played cricket for Eton, had written from the front, comparing the War to “putting your left leg to the ball at cricket” or playing in a house match “only the odds are not so much against us here and we’ve more to back us up.”  He was killed in July 1915.  His Father volunteered to work at the front, manning a canteen run by the YMCA and organising a small lending library for the troops.
(The pictures are of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Newark.)

Old England by G.A. Studdert Kennedy


Also known by his nom de guerre “Woodbine Willie”, Studdert Kennedy was, as the dust wrapper suggests, “perhaps the most famous Padre serving in the first world war”.  The nickname derived from his habit of handing out handfuls of cigarettes while offering spiritual sustenance to the troops.  He appears to have been genuinely well thought of by the men and was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for exceptional bravery under fire at Messines Ridge.

After the war he became a prominent Pacifist and wrote numerous popular essays with titles such as “Capitalism is nothing but Greed, Grab and Profit-Mongering” (he could never be accused of mincing his words). 

 In his poems “Rough Rhymes of a Padre” and “More Rough Rhymes” he often – as here –  made use of some conventions established by Kipling.  Like Kipling, he might be accused of putting his own words into the soldiers’ mouths.  On the other hand, he might have taken the words right out of their mouths.

His day of commemoration in the Church of England is on 8th March.



YES, I’m fightin’ for old England
      And for eighteenpence a day,
And I’m fightin’ like an ‘ero,
      So the daily papers say.
Well, I ain’t no downy chicken,
      I’m a bloke past forty-three,
And I’m goin’ to tell ye honest
      What old England means to me.
When I joined the British Army
      I’d bin workin’ thirty years,
But I left my bloomin’ rent-book
      Showin’ three months in arrears.
No, I weren’t no chronic boozer,
      Nor I weren’t a lad to bet;
I worked ‘ard when I could get it,
      And I weren’t afeared to sweat.
But I weren’t a tradesman proper,
      And the work were oft to seek,
So the most as I could addle
      Were abaht a quid a week.
And when me and Jane got married,
      And we ‘ad our oldest kid,
We soon learned ‘ow many shillings
      Go to make a golden quid.
For we ‘ad to keep our clubs up,
      And there’s three and six for rent,
And with food and boots and clothing
      It no sooner came than went.
Then when kiddies kep’ on comin’–
      We reared four and buried three;

My ole woman couldn’t do it,
      So we got in debt–ye see.
And we ‘ad a’eap o’ sickness
      And we got struck off the club,
With our little lot o’ troubles
      We just couldn’t pay the sub.
No, I won’t tell you no false’oods;
      There were times I felt that queer,
That I went and did the dirty,
      And I ‘ad a drop o’ beer.
Then the wife and me ‘ud quarrel,
      And our ‘ome were little ‘ell,
Wiv the ‘ungry kiddies cryin’,
      Till I eased up for a spell.
There were times when it were better,
      And some times when it were worse,
But to take it altogether,
      My old England were a curse.
It were sleepin’, sweatin’, starvin’,
      Wearing boot soles for a job,
It were sucking up to foremen
      What ‘ud sell ye for a bob.
It were cringin’, crawlin’, whinin’,
      For the right to earn your bread,
It were schemin’, pinchin’, plannin’,
      It were wishin’ ye was dead.
I’m not fightin’ for old England,
      Not for this child–am I? ‘Ell!
For the sake o’ that old England
      I’d not face a single shell,
Not a single bloomin’ whizzbang.
      Never mind this blarsted show,
With your comrades fallin’ round ye,
      Lyin’ bleedin’ in a row.
This ain’t war, it’s ruddy murder,
      It’s a stinkin’ slaughter ‘ouse.

‘Ark to that one, if ‘e got ye
      ‘E’d just squash ye like this louse.
Would I do this for old England,
      Would I? ‘Ell, I says, not me
What I says is, sink old England
      To the bottom of the sea
It’s new England as I fights for,
      It’s an England swep’ aht clean,
It’s an England where we’ll get at
      Things our eyes ‘ave never seen;
Decent wages, justice, mercy,
      And a chance for ev’ry man
For to make ‘is ‘ome an ‘eaven
      If ‘e does the best ‘e can.
It’s that better, cleaner England,
      Made o’ better, cleaner men,
It’s that England as I fights for,
      And I’m game to fight again.
It’s the better land o’ Blighty
      That still shines afore our eyes,
That’s the land a soldier fights for,
      And for that a soldier dies.

The Midland Railway War Memorial, Derby

The next time that you’re on your way to Matlock Bath by train (as I’m sure you will be shortly!) you may find that you have to spend an hour or so at Derby Station, before changing trains.  If you ask politely, the Station staff will be only too happy to allow you out of the station to make what Pevsner would have called a perambulation of the City.

One of the first things you come to will be this – 

– a war memorial, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens.  Judging by the number of names on it (2,833) you might think that it represents the war dead of the City of Derby, or perhaps of the Derbyshire Regiment.  In fact, it is the memorial to the employees of the Midland Railway.

An unusual feature is that the figure on top of the pillar is almost invisible from the ground, but appears to be a dead, shrouded soldier.

 This reminds me a little of Mark Wallinger’s sculpture “Ecce Homo” – a life-size figure of Christ that briefly featured on top of one of the plinths in Trafalgar Square a couple of years ago – the more moving because, at first sight, it appeared quite negligible.

Keep the Home Fires Burning : the Peace Day Riots of 1919

(Following on from yesterday’s post about the mixed popular response to the Peace Day celebrations of 1919, the story of the Luton Riots of 1919).

A couple of Summers ago I decided to visit Luton (I pass through it every day on my train, and wondered what it was like).  I even took a notebook (just like a proper journalist) and made notes on what I saw, but never got round to writing them up.  Luton is, not, perhaps, the most attractive of towns, but, as with anywhere else, there are plenty of points of interest if you look hard enough.

One of the first things you come to as you leave the station is the Town Hall – a pleasant-looking building, dating, you would guess, from the 1930s.  In front of it is a war memorial inscribed with the names of those members of the Bedfordshire Regiment who had lost their lives in the Great War (including that of one of my Grandather’s older brothers).

About half an hour’s walk away is Wardown Park, which has recently been restored to something close to its Edwardian splendour.  It houses an attractive cricket ground, which hosts matches by Bedfordshire and Northants, as well as being the home of Luton Town and Indians CC (one of the grounds where Monty Panesar learned his trade).  It also houses the Wardown Park Museum and Gallery.

As you might expect, there a lot of hats in this museum (I rather foolishly bought a boater from the Museum shop, which I’ve never found an occasion to wear) –

A Boater

and plenty of lace.  But one of the most striking exhibits was a sort of son-et-lumiere recreation of the Peace Day riots of 1919, which provided an explanation of why the Town Hall was rather more modern than one might expect.

A full and lively account of this event is available here, but, in short, the facts are these.  The authorities in the town had planned to celebrate the declaration of peace with a procession through the town to the Town Hall, followed by an official reading of the Proclamation of Peace and a splendid dinner for the Mayor and some of the Council Officials.  No ex-servicemen were invited to the dinner.

Ex-servicemen’s organisation requested permission to organise an event of their own in Wardown Park, but this was refused.  To make their point, they lined the route of the official procession and stood in silence, with the most seriously wounded and disabled servicemen at the front.  When the procession reached the Town Hall (accompanied now by the ex-servicemen), the Mayor attempted to read the Proclamation, but was drowned out by jeering and cat-calls.  A call for three cheers for the ex-servicemen inflamed the crowd further.  They surged forward, breaking through the thin line of police and occupied the Town Hall, forcing the Mayor and his party to barricade themselves in a small parlour. The decorations for the Mayor’s Party were torn down and thrown from the windows, as were most of the furniture and official documentation.

As the evening progressed, fires were started inside and outside the Town Hall. Petrol was brought from a nearby garage to feed the flames and by midnight the Town Hall was soon well and truly ablaze.  A music shop was broken into and three pianos dragged into the street, to provide a musical accompaniment.  Rather wittily, I feel, they sang that patriotic favourite of the First War, Ivor Novello’s keep the Home Fires Burning.

It took three or four days for order to be restored.  The Mayor, who had been smuggled from the Town Hall disguised as a Special Constable, decided to retire from politics and Luton and live in Sutton-on-Sea.  He only returned to Luton twice – once for the funeral of a friend, and once for his own.

And here is one of the most popular recordings of Keep the Home Fires Burning, by John McCormack.

(Look, I’m not advocating burning Town Halls down, all I’m saying is it happens- right?, as they always used to say in NME).

The Victory Ball, by F.W. Skerrett : a Poem of Remembrance

My latest find at the Harborough Antiques Market, which seems to have the wonderful knack of providing me with things I didn’t know I needed, is this volume of verse – Rhymes of the Rail by F.W. Skerrett “The Locomotive Poet“, published in 1920 by Goodall and Suddick of Leeds.


I thought, from the cover, that it might be some collection of whimsical verse recalling the great days of steam – right up my street, or siding –  but, in fact, it is something quite different.  Skerrett, it appears, was a driver who operated out of Manchester, and was a keen Socialist and Union activist (with ASLE&F, the train drivers’ Union).

The verses, which are Kiplingesque in style (his epigraph is from Kipling, and he includes a pastiche of If  in praise of ASLE&F) are propagandist in intent, and were written to be to be recited.  In his foreword the Secretary of ASLE&F J. Bromley writes

“Those who attended our 1918 and 1919 Conferences, and heard some of Mr. Skerrett’s poems rendered at the concerts, knowing the beauty of them, will welcome this little book.” 

I’m not sure about beauty, exactly, but the poems certainly provide some interesting insights into the working life of the train driver, and the bitterness of the sentiments expressed lend them a good deal of power.

This particular poem, which I thought might be appropriate for Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, is an example of that.  I think it must have been occasioned by the Peace Day celebrations of 1919.  Although the Armistice was announced on 11th November 1918 the negotiations at Versailles did not conclude until the following June, and it was decided to celebrate the formal declaration of peace with a Peace Day on 19 July.  Lord Curzon (who was in charge) originally proposed a four-day celebration, but this was felt to be a little extravagant, and it was scaled down to a single day.

Even so, there was considerable feeling against the event.  A letter to the Manchester Evening News put the case –

I am sure the title Peace Day will send a cold shiver through the bodies of thousands of ‘demobbed’ men who are walking about the streets of Manchester looking for a job. Could a term be found that would be more ironical for such men. Perhaps, after the Manchester and Salford Corporations have celebrated this ‘Peace’ and incidentally will have wasted the thousands of pounds which it will cost, they will devote their spare time to alleviating the ‘bitterness’ and ‘misery’ which exist in the body and mind of the unemployed ex-soldier.
It is high time some very forcible and active measures were taken. Many Manchester businessmen refuse to employ the ex-soldier on the grounds that he has lost four years of experience in this line or that line of business through being in the army. What a splendid and patriotic retort to make to the men who were chiefly instrumental in saving their business from being in the possession of the Hun.Manchester Evening News July 10th 1919

Elsewhere, the Norfolk ex-Servicemen’s Association formally boycotted the event, and, most dramatically, in Luton, protests culminated in the burning down of the Town Hall (a story for another day).  

Skerrett puts the case against in verse (it might help to read it in the voice used by Stanley Holloway for Albert & the Lion).


The Victory Ball

The fighting was finished ,

And peace was declared;

The crowd idly gathered –

As crowds do – and stared

At a building illumined

With a great brilliant light

Whence the music proclaimed

Of a gay festive night.

By motor or carriage

The dancers arrive,

Their adornments denoting

E’en on war some will thrive.

The crowd stands amazed

At the sight of it all:

‘Midst their suffering and loss

‘Tis a Victory Ball.


A demobilised Tommy

Stood by in the crowd,

And when asked his opinion,

He spoke it out loud:

“Why, Guv’nor, this here’s

Just an insult and crime

‘Gainst the lads buried there

‘Midst the mud and the slime.

Work they refuse us,”

He bitterly said,

“Yet for them and their kind

We have fought, aye, and bled.

They may want us again –

Let them want, that is all –

To ‘ell with the lot

And their Victory Ball.”


To this sad-faced young widow,

With babe at her breast,

The scene must recall

Thoughts of him she loved best;

And his last parting words

Ring again in her ear:

“If I fall in the fray

They’ll be kind to you, dear.”

Thus their kindness is shewn

To that poor aching soul;

Their’s is riches to flaunt,

Her’s a pitiful dole;

They in jewels arrayed ,

She an old tattered shawl –

Christ have mercy on those

At that Victory Ball.  


(Thanks to this site for the letter to the M.E.N. – Aftermath).

The enormous condescension of posterity (2): historians and poets

An odd discussion this week on Channel 4 News between Gordon Corrigan and Christina Patterson, formerly of the Poetry Society, about the significance of the death of Harry Patch.

Corrigan is a retired major in the Gurkhas turned military historian, the author of Blood, mud and poppycock: this is just one of the many millions of books I’ve yet to read,  so I’ll refrain from comment on it – the central thrust, however seems to be a defence of the British generals in Word War 1, and a general debunking of what he sees as the mythology surrounding that war.  I seem to remember, when I was studing A Level history over twenty years ago, writing interminable essays aruing that the cause of WW1 was German paranoia and aggression, and that, if the War was to be won, there was little alternative to Haig’s policy of attrition – so that part (if that’s what he’s saying)doesn’t seem particularly controversial. 

No doubt he has valid points to make, but his performance on the TV (and it was hard not to reminded of the Major in Fawlty Towers) managed to convey the impression that fighting on the Western Front had actually been rather fun.  He produced various statistics about the amount of time that men spent on the front line as opposed to behind the lines: apparently they spent more time playing football than actually fighting.  This does suggest an appalling failure of the imagination.

He also said something to the effect (I wasn’t making notes and can’t find a transcript) that he hoped the war would soon cease to be a national scar and become a part of history.  I think what he means by this is that it ceases to be something in which we participate imaginatively and becomes a set of facts and figures which historians can rearrange and interpret in new and surprising ways,  for political or careerist reasons,  or simply for the fun of it.

I’m reminded of Geoffrey Hill’s essay on his own sequence of poems Funeral Music –

“Without attempting factual detail, I had in mind the Battle of Towton, fought on Palm Sunday, 1461.  It is now customary to play down the violence of the Wars of the Roses and to present them as dynastic skirmishes fatal, perhaps, to the old aristocracy but generally of small concern to the common people and without much effect on the economic routines of the kingdom.  Statistically, this may be arguable; imaginatively, the Battle of Towton itself commands one’s belated witness.  In the accounts of the contemporary chroniclers it was a holocaust.  Some scholars have suggested that the claims were exaggerated, although the military historian, Colonel A.H. Burne … reckons that over twenty-six thousand men died at Towton and remarks that ‘the scene must have beggared description and its very horror probably deterred the survivors from passing on stories of the fight’.  Even so, one finds the chronicler of Croyland Abbey writing that the blood of the slain lay caked with the snow which covered the ground and that, when the snow melted, the blood flowed along the furrows and ditches for a distance of two or three miles.”