shytone  books  music  essays  home  exploratories  new this month

 exploratories




...trenches...



My paternal grandfather died, some decades before my birth. So I never knew him - although I deeply loved his widow, albeit I have only one object to remember her by - and, yet, I feel the need to revisit his story...a story that, apparently, he never told in any detail, preferring to let time erase the ghastly trauma of burial alive...and its grisly aftermath.

Almost, too late it was - in a collapsed trench on the Somme...whilst his comrades in arms were snuffed-out in a mustard gas attack, so that...when he finally arose from the grave, it was to find his immediate world dead & buried...a fate I find almost inconceivable.

He never marched, the consolations of comrades surviving denied to him. Nor did he join any veterans organisations. Instead, he just got on with his life. He was a builder - and a damn good one, by all accounts, w/a pride in craftsmanship rarely seen today. Judging by the work of his eldest son - my uncle, also sadly deceased - I can attest to this care & skill, something that any sustainable society badly needs to rediscover.

I doubt that he was any kind of leftist, small businessmen rarely are - for generally good reasons, as the left, following Marx, stupidly insists on demonizing markets, instead of market power - but, he was fiercely critical of big business...and was deeply Australian in his fundamental egalitarianism....

There’s not that much else to say, really. All I have is a photo, an old plane perched above my bookcase, and my father’s recollections of a man who never talked much about himself. But...I can’t help dwelling upon his experience in the trenches....

Panic time in solitary...w/the taste of mud in his mouth - and the very real fear that no-one would ever come looking.... That, in itself, is almost beyond the comprehension of any who have not lived through such a day. But...on top of that, to be rescued - and find himself the sole survivor, sheerly beggars the imagination. We think, as we read survivor’s accounts, that we can begin to grasp such enormities. Where we fail - and, it is a very human failing - is to understand that the worst is very rarely told. Between inner strength, denial, and lack of skill w/words, very few who have lived through such find their way though to express it...so that others may begin to understand.

Stoicism is a philosophy, with which - I’m sure - my grandfather would’ve had no truck.... But, the ethos underlying same - I feel - was close to his. He never expected rewards for having gone through a hell which I can’t imagine. He worked hard - and did fine work - and never talked in any detail about his loss.... These are virtues that our society has all but forgotten, on all sides of the political spectrum. We would do very well to think of this man, and - perhaps - ask why we have lost these strengths. And, how we may, in some way, find them again...


john henry calvinist