Monday, 1 September 2008

In Memoriam

This weekend the Wensleydale Railway has been hosting a World War 2 weekend. 'Shop windows have sported war memorabilia and men and women in old uniforms have popped up in unlikely places. Union Jack bunting has flown in the town and windows of the shops have been criss-crossed with masking tape - all vaguely familiar.
But you really have to be at least seventy to remember World War 2. And with the First World War there is barely anyone left to remember it at all. This morning, searching for something (I spend a lot of time doing this) I came across a table mat made by my Auntie Eva and it brought back memories of 4 "casualties " of the First World War - four of my father's sisters, who like thousands of other young women, never married because there was a shortage of young men left after that awful carnage.
Two became tailoresses, one a milliner and the other one stayed at home to "keep house" for her parents. They all lived together and after the parents died the four sisters remained together until their deaths.
By the time I was born they were in their forties. One was a plump, jolly auntie, who drew pictures and told stories, one was a tiny mouse of a woman who rarely spoke, one was always rather a sourpuss and the other, the milliner, worked in a high class establishment in the town and always acted as though she was a little better than us.
It was only after I grew up and they had all died that I realised the full significance of their lives - how sad they had been. The "sourpuss" had had a romantic liaison with someone who seemed to vanish from the scene overnight - no one seems to know whether he was killed in battle or just left her, but he left behind such sadness that stayed with her for the rest of her life. After she died I inherited an autograph album and several poetry books. They were all bought for my aunt by her lover and all are inscribed with his name for her "Robin" -. In one of the books is a piece cut from a newspaper which has obviously been folded, unfolded and read hundreds of times. Not very good poetry maybe but a sad reflection on a wasted life. All four had sad stories to tell - but they were not alone.
If I could come to thee! If I could leave
The toil-worn paths in which my feet are set,
And in lone hour of golden peace forget
The hard. rough things to which my soul must cleave!
If I could come and gain my love's reprieve.
If I could weep and feel thy cheeks all wet
With those fond tears thy grief would sure beget
When I knelt down in weariness to grieve.

I may not come! and ah this very thought
Makes clamorous my spirit's cry for thee,
Is there in heaven one chamber set apart,
A sacred place where the first kiss is brought?
Through the long days I'll hush my passion's plea
And let this hope lie warm about my heart. Elsie S Mead


Pat Posner said...

I promise myself every year I'll go to the World War 2 Weekend - and something always crops up. When I finish writing my children's book set in WW2, I'll go to that weekend event to celebrate.

I love the story of your four aunties; they'd be fantastic characters for a family saga.

Hope Tess hasn't eaten any more 'blackbirds'.


The Weaver of Grass said...

All four had sad stories but I didn't know about them until after they had died - they belonged to an age where you didn't talk about things - makes me pleased I live in an age where most things are "up front".

Gramma Ann said...

I recently read the book "Cranford."

Your aunties lives kind of remind me of the spinsters who lived in "Cranford." They each had a different personality. But they managed to get along together.

Enjoyed the story about your aunties. A bit sad, but looking back over history of those years, there were many families affected in some way or another.

Have a nice week.


Janice Thomson said...

The effects of war are so devastating - sometimes it is the ones left behind who are really the victims for they must pick up the pieces and carry on. This poem is a heart-wrenching read and indicative of the suffering many must have endured.

Annie Bright said...

Thank you for visiting my blog – and I am glad to have found yours. Your four aunts are very interesting characters indeed. I think it's important to record as many family memories as we can for future generations. My grandfather died at Dunkirk. And my father, now 78, has many excellent memories of his time as an evacuee during World War 2. He loves to sit and talk, while I write down what he has to say.