You can imagine that
they sense what we know
concerning what lies ahead.
For them, but also for her.
Creating the Centena
Saturday November 11, 2017, and I’m having one of my occasional forays into Facebook. Amongst the usual miscellany of gigs, wit, jealousy inducing travel pics and heart-warming family events is one post that stops me in my tracks, and the only reference from any of my friends to the fact that today is Armistice Day. Andy, who was a good friend over 30 years ago, before either of us had children, and who I’ve only seen again a couple of times in the past 20 years, has posted an Edwardian family photograph, of his great grandparents and their six children. Of these six, four sons were to die in the First World War. Andy’s post is respectful and sober, and tonally light years away from the usual stuff of Facebook. I look at the picture for minutes on end. His tribute has become my meditation on Armistice Day.
Monday, January 15th, 2018, and an email drops into my inbox, inviting me to apply to take part in the collaboration between 26 and the Imperial War Museum. We have to write about a named person who was alive during the First World War. My mind goes at once to Andy’s grandma. I will be writing about Marjorie Cornell.
Friday, April 20th, 2018, Andy and I are meeting up in Islington, for the first time in a decade, ironically in a restaurant called Gallipoli. Our Gallipoli experience, full of excellent Turkish food and beer, bears no comparison to that of the thousands of Allied soldiers who lost their lives, and is testament to the everyday pleasures that peacetime has afforded us, which our ancestors couldn’t rely on. He tells me all he knows about her and her family, although that isn’t a lot – as is the case with so many families, a lot wasn’t recorded, and the worth of the oral history wasn’t fully appreciated. But what he can tell me, about the impact of her loss on her values and the way she conducted herself through life, is more eloquent than any formal research documents could be.
Having said that, fortunately he does know roughly where they lived, and armed with that, and the generous resources of the Imperial War Museum, I’m able to get access to two census records, the last of which is from 1911, showing that the family lived in Queens Gate Villas, Hackney, in a row of fine late Victorian houses that are still standing, on the edge of Victoria Park. I send copies of the records, and a Google Street View clip of their house to Andy. It’s been an honour to be able to share these things with him.
So Marjorie, here’s to you. To me, you represent one of the millions of dignified women who had no say in the war, but who had to live with the consequences, and who did so with quiet grace and resolve.
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.