Tuesday, 11 November 2008

We will remember them...

Cpl William Foster Johnson, MM, is buried at Etaples military cemetery, having died of wounds just months before the end of World War One. There can't be many families in the UK without a story of their own to tell about the Great War; W.F.Johnson - or 'Uncle' Will as he is always called - is ours. Mentioned in dispatches and decorated for having single-handedly disarmed a German machine-gun emplacement, he was wounded in early summer 1918 and died at the casualty clearing station at Etaples on the French coast, where he is buried. Until my parents bought a house in France some years ago, no-one in the family (as far as we could tell) had ever visited his grave. That's been put right now, thank goodness. And a couple of years ago we stopped on our way back home and Sally paid her own tribute to a distant, but not-forgotten relative.

Like all military cemeteries, Etaples is stunning both in its scale and manicured tranquility. Only one thing leaves a slightly bitter taste: as you survey the serried ranks of fallen soldiers it suddenly hits you that they're in parade ground order. The officers (with their slightly larger plots) are all together at the top, nearest the entrance; the other ranks then fan out into the far distance. It's a small point, maybe. But to be not equal in death seems so unnecessary, as well as typically British. As a footnote to this post, my mother still has - framed - the many delicate, embroidered post-cards Will sent from the Western Front. Wonderful, delicate creations bearing such legends as 'Towards Victory' and 'Onwards to Glory'. That such fragile, hand-made items should have come from the Gehenna he was in is something of a miracle.
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