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”:

Shrine

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.

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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

.
Consecration
E.W. Hornung
(1919)
 
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.

 

OLD ENGLAND

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.