Let me take this milky gloom, this premature sunset.
The wittering of the sky-lark, deaf to this hell.
The viscous black crimson, of man inside out.
Creating the Centena
Years became decades, and generations passed, until my inquisitive Uncle sought to explain a stunted branch of our family tree.
Saturdays dominated by Airfix kits, enamel paint and hobby glue triggered my curiosity in the Great War. Years later, having moved from my childhood home of Adelaide to verdant Surrey, I acted on my curiosity and explored the Western Front, armed with maps, notes and a head full of history books. I trod the earth, gazed towards once significant ridges, and wandered among row upon row of chalk-white headstones. I cried, for people I never knew.
Then my Uncle uncovered the fate of ‘our Les’, my Great-Grand Uncle, who lay in the fields I’d criss-crossed. Like a remnant of the iron harvest, the memory of Les Angel was unearthed, and remembrance, buried for so long, was freed.
Sent to Gallipoli, with the AIF’s 7th Field Ambulance, Les spent three months on a cramped hospital ship, in the grip of chronic gastroenteritis. Then via an Egyptian hospital to the Somme Valley, over 10,000 miles from home. His job was corpse collection, his workplace the pockmarked hell beyond the front line.
He was a surveyor’s assistant.
“I did not see the actual casualty, but I saw him soon after it happened. He was caught by a shell and killed instantly. Casualty was at Bullecourt on the 4-5-17. I knew him very well, he came from S. Australia. He was buried in the military Cemetery At Vaulx. I saw his grave, and it was marked with a Cross, bearing his No, name and unit. Informant. Shanks Pte. A.G. 3749”
*Official letter of witness, sent by Les’ comrade Private Alfred Shanks on the 18th December 1917.
7th February 2018
My mid-afternoon Eurostar speeds through thick snow, my anger at its delay replaced by a miniature Rioja and the brief for a ‘Centena’, to mark the Centenary of Armistice. I gaze through the dirty window at Northern France.
My first thought gathers. From Coke Street to Vaulx Cemetery.
27th March 2018
Standing outside Les’ home, at 28 Coke Street, Norwood, in South Australia. The white light and cacophony of birds so very Adelaide. The bell of the Norwood Town Hall marks ten o’clock. A young girl plays in the small park opposite. ‘See-saw, Margery Daw…’.
He walked out of this gate and never came back.
12th April 2018
I’m flying to Venice, my iPad screen displaying words of encouragement from John, my project editor.
17th April 2018
Eurostar again, my Centena taking form.
Spring sunshine in abundance. Blossom, wind turbines, works depots and lorries. Road signs whizz by. Bapaume, Albert, Arras…
He died in the spring.
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.