Thursday, 30 November 2017

O For a Song

Terry sings at the football every Saturday.
Susanne sings in the prestigious Philharmonic choir.
Adrianna sings in the school production.
Jake sings at Canterbury Cathedral.
Jen is learning opera.
Harry does every open mic night around, hoping for his big break.
The radio DJs of the world blare out an incessant stream of music from across the ages.

As ABBA said, "Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing." Even those who never sing (or never admit to it) can't deny that without songs the world would be a poorer place. But I think all of us can still underestimate the power of song. Without it we lack a certain unifying force. An uplifting, spirit-changing power that takes us beyond ourselves and makes us something more.

However, other than in large groups, singing is more often laughed at than supported. Maybe it's our age of individualism or maybe it's just pride and vanity, but people are much less inclined to sing out loud and proud. The school assembly, once an occasion for a rousing song to begin the day, is now most often devoid of corporate music making, and when it is, only mumbled drudgery limps from uneasy lips.

How can the new generation get past this hurdle. Perhaps with a new song, to unite them?

Robert Leckie, American, World War Two Marine, writes in his memoirs Helmet for my Pillow of the tragedy of having no song to sing:
   "It is sad to go off to war without a song of your own to sing. Something like a rousing war song - something like the "Minstrel Boy" or something jolly and sardonic like the Englishman's "Sixpence" - might have made the war a bit more worth fighting. But we got none. Ours was an Advanced Age, too sophisticated for such outdated frippery. War cries or war songs seemed rather na├»ve and embarrassing for our rational time. We were fed food for thought; abstractions like the Four Freedoms were given to is. Sing a marching song about that, if you can."
   Despite this they still loved to sing (or at least "Bellow out a tune"). It provided more than just joy, it became a part of life. A part of life that seems at times to be missing and thus leaves something locked up inside of us that would be better released.

O world, give us a song, and give us the freedom to sing it.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

In Memorandum

Peter Ligertwood
Acting Captain
2nd Royal Marine Battalion
Date of Birth: 14 Nov 1887
Date of Death: 26 Oct 1917
Killed in action
Peter Ligertwood enlisted in January 1906. Four years later he was promoted to Corporal and four years after that to Sergeant, just as the war started. However, for the next few years his company resided first on the south coast of England and then further from the action, in Ireland.
Peter Ligertwood became the crack shot of the Corps and in January 1916 received a commissioning as Lieutenant. He was to get one more promotion. But still it was other men who were called to France, other companies who served their country. Peter spent most of 1916 writing a training manual which survived the war and may have been used for many years after. In May 1917 he joined the 1st Royal Marine Battalion and the next day transferred to the 2nd Battalion only to become sick and be laid up in hospital for the rest of the summer. He must have wondered if he would see anything of the war, but in mid-September, 1917, he rejoined his Battalion, and, as it happened, just in time to be finally shipped to France.
Summer on the continent had been bad, and not just on account of the war. Endless rains had turned northern France into a mud bath. Ligertwood’s division was taken to the front at Arras and then on to Ypres. They trained, as well as they could, and saw enough action for Peter to receive two wounds. Their Captain, however, suffered worse and died, so on the 22nd of October Peter was promoted to Acting Captain until another one could be officially appointed. The war, though, wouldn’t wait.
               Instructions came that 2nd Battalion were to pass through the 1st Battalion and attempt to reach targets across the Paddebeek stream, some 800 yards further on. Peter Ligertwood gathered his Marines and informed them that in a few days they would go ‘over the top’. Knowing that they would quickly become disorientated in the mud and the dark he devised a plan. In each company a Marine would carry a wooden banner with red stripes, like in days of old, as a rallying point. The Chaplain, Father Davey, blessed the wooden banners and the men soon considered them to be sacred.

When dark came on the night of the 24th of October the Naval men relieved the Royal Scots. It was evident even then that troubles lay ahead. There was no real front, just mud scrapings with some machine guns and riflemen. When shells came over and a soldier was walking the duckboards there was no alternative than to go on. Richard Tobin remarked, unhappily, “there is no hope of food or ammunition and the Germans will rain down a storm of steel.”
On Thursday, for a change, the weather was bright and the clear autumnal sunlight lifted their spirits a little, although nothing could take away the knowledge of what was to come. It’s hard to imagine what someone will think about in that situation, knowing that in a few days they must face a very high chance of death. Did they wonder why they were there at all?
The forecast for the morning of Friday the 26th of October was for more fine weather but in the early hours the rain returned. For two days they had shelled the Germans, caving in the trenches, making massive mud holes in the desolate landscape that now became black ponds in a black land.

The Battalion was directed to assemble on a line 150 yards east of Burns House, Vacher Farm Road. At 6:30 am they were to form for attack behind the stationary barrage at the limit of the first objective, and move forward with the barrage at 7:36 am. German shells were already throwing up clouds of mud but the red banners were held aloft for all to see on the howling battlefield. 
             The Battalion duly set off but it was only on the flanks that they were able to make any headway. Acting Captain Peter Ligertwood led A Company. He'd found a length of spun yarn and connected his men together to prevent them leaving the narrow tracks through the mud. When a man fell he was quickly hauled back to his feet and with Ligertwood leading from the front the whole company crossed the Paddebeek and soon made good their position.
Ligertwood’s plan was working as the men rallied to the banners, but the other companies were struggling to make the same level of progress in the dim, early morning light. Ligertwood set his sights on the final objective and once more roused his men. On they went, step after muddy step, while the German resistance mounted. Gunfire burst out on every side and the other companies, now lost in sprays of mud and water were completely bogged down.
Peter marched on but his luck would not hold and he was hit. He paused, winded but ok. The adrenaline masked the pain. He carried on, but being at the front is a dangerous position and he was struck again, twice, in quick succession. The blows were nasty but he was still alive and determined to reach the target. He was compelled to drop back in the line, but forced himself to continue only to be hit a fourth time and to lie in the mud. Still Peter tried to rise as the machine guns raked the ground, but he could not do so. He croaked instructions to one of his sergeants and then pointed to the German line saying, “There’s your objective lads; get it.”
Chronicler Douglas Jerrold wrote that it was, “one of the finest exploits of that fated day.” As Peter sank backward the red banners advanced across the Ypres mud and widened Paddebeek stream. The right pressed forward and captured a strongpoint and on the left another success. In the centre the Germans “from countless pillboxes and redoubts, rained like hail on the dauntless men.” Wrote Surgeon Lt Geoffrey Sparrow. Some time later it became clear that the attack was being held in the swirling rain and iron storm. A company reached their target and defended their position. Only one man, their courageous leader, was killed on that march, and such a testament cannot be bettered.
               Three of the sacred banners also survived the attack and the war, and one may still exist at the Royal Marine museum. Afterwards it was said they inspired the men of Flanders and filled future generations with pride for their Corps who's traditions cannot be touched any other regiment.
Tragically the attack of the 26th failed to achieve all of its objectives. Some units were even forced to pull back later in the day. The notorious battles of Passchendaele followed but on the 6th of November the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions finally captured the village of Passchendaele, at a cost of almost 16,000 lives. In the Spring of 1918 a reinforced German army retook all of the land.
Captain Peter Ligertwood, the older brother of my Great Grandfather, died in the mud on the 26th October, 1917. 100 years ago today.
Through mud and mire and steel rain, bursting from the darkness, he fought and won and lost. His actions are recorded. His commitment to preserve life among the death of war, honoured.
His vision, determination, gallant leadership and noble ending chronicled as another tale of a time now out of memory but not forgotten.

Officers of the 2nd Royal Marine Battalion, mid-October, 1917. Lt. Peter Ligertwood circled.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Hardest Thing

Someone once asked me,
"What's the hardest thing in life?"
I don't know what I said then,
But I think I know the answer now.

The hardest thing in life is knowing that for someone else life is harder.
Someone else will have less money in their pocket,
Less food on their table,
No table.
Someone will have a colder house,
A colder room,
No room.

That person started life just like me,
How have I ended up with more?

I'll give my donation to the food bank,
Support a charity helping people out of debt,
But as long as I have more that will not have made my life easier,
Because the hardest thing in life is knowing
That for someone else
Life is harder.

I live in the United Kingdom,
I have a house and a wage, which combined put me in the richest 7% of the world's population,
Maybe higher.

It's said the 8 richest people in the world own the same amount as the poorest 3.5billion.
I can't do anything about that.
I'm not into dragging people down.
But if I do not reach below me and lift up someone every day, my life will not be worth the extra pint of milk I bought, just because I can,
And far less than the priceless smile that could make a hard life less hard
For a moment.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The satisfaction of a house

So, I just bought a house - well I bought about 18% of a house and acquired a large debt, but we'll move past that. It's the first house I've ever bought and to say I've blagged my way through the many-month-long process is putting it lightly. Smile, nod and say "yep, great" a lot has been the theme. I gave up trying not to sound like a total idiot on the phone, early on, and accepted that I needed to be talked to like a six year old about all matters relating to mortgages and legal procedures and pretty much everything else. It almost got to the point where anyone could ring me up and tell me I needed to pay three-and-a-half million pounds in order for them to find out where my drains are and I would have said, "okay, here you go." (I've bought the house now though, so don't get any ideas!)
     I didn't really know how I'd feel when I finally picked up the keys. Truthfully, as it happened, I felt more consternation than elation. Having a house is a bit more responsibility than I'm happy with. Plus, it brings an end to a period of my life (seven years no less) that will become widely known, no doubt, as the Rental Years. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Now when I hand over large sums of money each month I'm actually getting something to keep, but it also means a cutting off of many happy years living in other people's houses, sharing kitchens with friends and playing games late into the night.
     Of course I like my house, it's nice, but I know it won't satisfy me, because I'm human, and nothing satisfies us for more than a few weeks, we always want more. For certain, at some point I will move out again, and the house will be used by someone else, in way it is not really mine at all. At the same time, I know that owning a house sets me a long way apart from a large percentage of the world, many of whom can only dream of such a luxury. The injustice of this shames me.
     It may sound like I can't wait to get rid of this house, but that's not true. Instead it's like this: I know that the satisfaction of a house is not in the owning but in the sharing; not in what it means to me, but what it can mean to others. I'm not very good at inviting people, though, so you'll have to do that yourself.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Cosmic Coincidence?

A beautiful total eclipse crossed America yesterday. How awesome is it that the Moon is exactly the right size and distance between us and the Sun to perfectly block out our nearest star!
     Some chap on the BBC called it a 'cosmic coincidence'. I guess some people will never believe in an architect, no matter how massive the evidence.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Race

There is something about watching a race, something compelling. Athletics has something no other sport has. It is perhaps the purest sport. Just one man against another. One woman becoming Number One. Chasing down the clock to be the fastest in the world. And whether you're there, track-side, or shouting at the TV, every spectator feels like they have a part to play. There is a thrill, a vibrant energy in urging every runner to push beyond themselves, to run harder, to persevere, to finish the race.

However, there is a dark truth about athletics, and it's not drugs or cheaters, but the truth that we can never know for certain who the fastest person in the world actually is. There are more than 7 billion of us, so there's a good chance that one of us, given the training and the resources and the opportunities could go faster. Maybe that's why the sport has struggled recently, even in the absolutes of a photo finish or a runaway leader, there are uncertainties. Who is the greatest athlete ever? How do we answer this?
     Fortunately, success can be measured in more than one way. Winning, yes, but also individually - a runner achieving their best, or catching everyone by surprise, defeating giants. Or simply getting up when they've fallen, battling back from life's painful moments, overcoming adversity.
     And this is a success we can all feel. Perhaps not on the running track, but in the race of life. Whether you're just leaving the starting blocks, rounding the bend, hurdling barriers or flat out on the home straight. Not all of us will have the glory or the limelight, but we can outdo ourselves, rise above our expectations, or the expectations of others. Challenge and defeat those who would bring us down, and at the same time encourage, support and lift up others; carry along the ones who feel like they cannot make it and are on the ground. Until, ultimately, we come to the finish line.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Not the News

Things that are not News:
     A sick baby
     A drunken celebrity
     Someone's pay check

Newspapers used to print short fictional pieces alongside their news headlines, now they don't have to because the 'news articles' are the stories. As humans we thrive off stories. We like to follow them, see them develop - what will be the next part of the drama, and that's alright when it's made up, but when it's just someone's life, a) that's a private affair (or should be) and b) why should I care, I have my own life to deal with.
     The News should be things that affect a large portion of society, and if the Newspapers and the TV and the Radio, can't find things to fill their columns and timings then they should just stop talking. Put some nice pictures in of penguins or something. It would certainly be happier to look at then the endless misery the reporters seem to drum up.

Have a nice summer!