fingerlakeswanderer

fingerlakeswanderer
Birthday
May 09
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Bio
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.

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JUNE 17, 2010 7:08AM

All That Remains--For the Father's Day Dead

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Name:     RAYMOND, ROBERT            Initials:     R                                      Nationality:     United Kingdom            Rank:     Private                                      Regiment/Service:     Lancashire Fusiliers               Unit Text:     1st/7th Bn.  Age:     25                                      Date of Death:     18/10/1917                 Service No:     280692                                      

Additional information:     Son of the late Mrs. Raymond of Prestwich; husband of Edith Lavinia Raymond, of 3, Sherbourne St., Prestwich, Manchester.                                      

Casualty Type:     Commonwealth War Dead                                      Grave/Memorial Reference:     II. A. 3.                                      

Cemetery:     ZUYDCOOTE MILITARY CEMETERY

 

 

 I come from a line of tremendous English women. My grandmother, Hilda, will celebrate her 94th birthday this year. On October 18, the 93rd anniversary of her father's death will pass. 

He died in the trenches of France in 1917. It has never been clear to me whether Hilda actually met him or not. The one person who would know for sure--her mother Edith--died at the age of 37 after cutting herself on a tin can and developing a fatal sepsis. Hilda was an orphan, raised by her older sister. 

A long time ago, I blogged about Robert Raymond, mentioning only that I had this photo and his name. To my astonishment, a military historian read my blog and found Robert's records for me. Suddenly, after all these years, we not only knew when he had died, but where he was buried. Before that, my grandmother had no idea where he lay. By the time I found this out, she was too old to travel, but I have made a pledge that I will visit Robert's grave; I will sit and talk to him and tell him about his granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and the two great-great granddaughters who issued from my body. If fortune is kind, they will be with me, and can connect with the man that none of us ever knew.

I have this photo of Robert, and I stare at it, trying to imagine what his life was like.  And I try to picture the day that Edith received the news that the man whose child she was carrying in her arms had died in the war. I imagine that it was a telegram delivered the news. Perhaps she had just finished feeding Hilda, and the child slept upon her shoulder while Edith dusted. I see her, as the color drains from her face and her knees go weak and she keeps herself from screaming lest she wake their baby.

She must have missed her man. He was only 25, a couple of years younger than she was, and I imagine they were passionate, devoted lovers before his nation sent him off to fight in its most-wasteful of all wars.

She was not alone, of course. England gave up a generation of young men to World War I. As did France, and German, Austria-Hungary. And for what? A few redrawn borders? The honor of a few noblemen? I can only think of World War I with rage. 

Its reminders are everywhere in Europe. The monuments to it list more names than you would think could live in the tiny villages through which you travel. But that's what happens when you lose a generation. A generation. And English widows raised their boys only to watch as their sons went off to fight another war. 

I wish I knew something more about Robert. I wish I knew what made him laugh. I wonder who his mates were, who he met down at the local for a pint after work. Did he carry a photo of Edith in his jacket? As he was dying, did he think of the children (my grandmother's half-sister, Jessie) that he would never see again? Did he wonder how Edith would carry on without him? 

 

Zuydcoote Mil Cem

Funny how military cemeteries look so similar. This is the one where Robert is buried. 

Three weeks ago, Rob and I took my youngest to Washington, DC, and we made the trek to Arlington. The white tablets of stone, stretching for miles, represented hundreds of thousands of Robert Raymonds. 

Section 60 of Arlington is dedicated now to the returning dead of Afghanistan and Iraq. 

I'm sure that many children will be brought there on Sunday to see Daddy. How do you explain to your son or daughter that their father died for an abstract ideal? Is it worth it? God, is it worth it

I think about Hilda. She was a baby when the man who was her father was shot down. I just can't stop thinking about the terrible, terrible waste. 

Perhaps President Obama needs to spend Father's Day at Arlington. He promised to end both wars, and he has not kept that promise. I think that you should deal with the consequences of breaking a promise--and comforting a grieving child whose daddy is dead seems a small consequence for what we continue to do half-way around the world. 

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I hear your anguish in your words especially as you close. I think of the generation lost in the Great War and I see two English women I once knew when I lived there and was an English wife. I am having lunch with the first. I see a photograph on a bureau. They were to have been married when he came home. But you see he didn't. He died a young man in the Battle of the Somme. His fiance never loved again. She was a woman of that generation and she simply went on without her love as did so many others.

I am having tea with the second woman. I am there to listen as she talks of her husband who has just died. He served in the war, she tells me. The Great War. I am thinking that surely she must mean World War II. Which war do you think I mean, she asked. I mean the Great War. The first. The one we thought would end all wars.

If only it had. Perhaps we should all spend time on Sunday thinking of Arlington, of those we have lost. Then perhaps we should think of ways to bring all soldiers home. For good.

I will be thinking of you and Hilda.
The truth of your words is evident in the passion with which you write them.
Cartouche--Thank you. From one passionate woman to another, I'm honored by your words.
anna1liese--I can see the scene you set in my head. It sounds like a blog post, if not a story. So many women, permanently affianced by the great war, by men who never returned. One of the great (among many) tragedies of the 20th century. Thank you.
It was truly a ruinous and wasteful war, even as wars go. My grandfather fought it in France, and thankfully was one of the ones who came home, or I wouldn't be sitting here today.
Many thanks for reminding us to remember lost fathers and the anguish of war on Fathers' Day...
Just a month ago, I counted the days until a young soldier friend of mine got home to marry his sweetheart...He was in Afghanistan and, though unsaid, it was an awful thing to ponder him not home, in his tux, kissing his sweet bride. But he did, he came home. I grieve for those who couldn't.
Lorraine, this is so poignant. I think of all children without their fathers all the time, and their pain touches my heart more than anything else. War is, has been and always will be the most absurd thing mankind has inflicted unto itself. ~R
Here's to all the soldiers, known and unknown, who didn't come home . . .
Powerful, powerful stuff. Though my father survived WWII, and his father WWI, they both suffered grievous wounds to body and spirit. Why, oh why?
I just finished a biography of the greatest English (born) composer, Edward Elgar, and was again reminded of the particular horror of the first World War. The war not only cost a generation, but loss to our culture. After the war people couldn't bear the kind of beauty Elgar created, and turned to icy modernism. Better to feel nothing at all than open one's heart to that horror.
Wow, this is very moving. Quite emotional, for me too. I have been reading many stories of war (currently A Woman In Berlin) and have been stunned by the atrocities of war. You have a hero in your family. And you have this very well written tribute to your family.
Powerfully said. Here's to all who didn't make it home - from any war.
Beautiful story, beautifully written.
Yes, I agree President Obama needs to spend Father's Day at Arlington. And anyone who decides on war, or wants to go to war, or thinks it grand their child go to war, should first meet a grieving parent, child, sibling, or veteran grieving the loss of limb and innocence. We should understand the price, the cost, of these decisions for and against, fully and with our hearts and minds, before committing to them. I detest the cavalier, the romanticizing, the mass stupidity of a distorted notion of patriotism that is paid for in lives.
Touching story of your family history. So wonderful that you have longevity in your family and hopefully your grandmother has told you almost a century of family history and her own insights for you to pass on...what a precious heirloom. R
Thank goodness this was an EP...it needs to be read, and I hope many will. Thanks for this post.
I am reminded of the red poppies that, in Flanders Field grow. Peace.
How the war that was end all wars continues to haunt and dishearten. In your poignant recherche you discover your grandfather has waited three generations to find home in the memory of his family. This is his legacy. And yours. Not all has been lost.
This is heartbreaking and all too true. I am glad you found Robert. And that line of tremendous English women is definitely alive and well in you.
This post is beautiful, sad, and haunting, all at the same time. I am a Vietnam Vet and I can relate to the futility of war. War is that generational exercise where the old men who are trying to rejuvenate their testosterone, send the young men out to die. It is repeated over and over again like a somber funeral march. Well done! I am with you. R-
Dave,
I'm really honored and haunted by your comment. A long time ago, I loved a Viet Nam vet, and he frequently compared WWI and Viet Nam. We were in school together (he had gone back on the version of the GI bill in effect) and he wrote a lot of papers trying to put into words this connection that he was certain was there. He compared the literature that came out of both wars. There are some tremendous overlaps. Thank you for commenting.

And to everyone else. Your comments have affected me. I haven't thought about the fact that I have given Robert a voice after all these years. I don't want to appropriate his voice, but neither do I want his--nor his millions of brother soldiers'--sacrifice go unacknowledged.
The wretchedness of war is not what seems lost on the battlefield but sometimes what is lost at home. The shortness of the last breath, the quickness of their short lives, all undone so horribly, but the child at home, the lover that never loves again, the whole life and all it would touch, the lost moments, the inventions, the cures, the tragedy. They are in the same stroke of pain. Yes, the president should stand at Arlington on such a day as this and keep the promise he made. The callousness of this wars beginning, the lies that created the reason, I can only wish that Bush would go to Arlington too. Perhaps his guilt would smite him or all those who have fought rise up from their graves and smack him good and hard for all the wars they fought which were so different than these now. These now entrenched in greed and lies. R
Sheila,
I have long since given up on Bush acknowledging the connection between the coffins and the wars he started. If he couldn't look Cindy Sheehan in the eye, how could he look any other person in the eye over this war?
This - war and sacrifice - is all I will think about today.
I'm so glad you found him after all these years, and that your discovery triggered such a beautiful meditation on war and the vast toll it takes. Thank you - I will be thinking about this piece today.
Wars are senseless whenever or whatever the cause, but history repeats itself constantly. What will it take for humanity to learn once and for all, I wonder? A very touching post.
I hope that you are able to make that trek, and that connection. It was very moving to me to read of the last "Tommy" (British WWI soldiers) Harry Patch, dieing last year. At the time there was still one British WWI sailor still alive in Australia, along with one or two native Aussie vets of that war.

Here is a url to the "In Flanders Field" Museum, in Belgium where the battle of Ypres (one of several) where Canadian Doctor Col. John McCrae wrote the eternal poem "In Flanders Field" from which both we and the Canadians acquired the symbol of the poppy to commemorate Memorial Day. The audio, especially the song "When Harry took me to Ypres," will move you to tears, but you will never regret it. The song was written not that long ago. I've wondered if the Harry from the song was named for Harry Patch, the last British Tommy.

Thanks for sharing the story of your Great Grandfather, and his family since.
Whoops! I forgot to include the url.

http://www.inflandersfields.be/#gedicht
For your British Tommy:

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
I visited the cemeteries in Normandy a few years ago. It's still with me. All those kids. And that's what the vast majority of them were, not really much more than children asked (or told) to step into something that I, despite my own military service, can't even begin to imagine.

Different war, I know, but thanks for helping to put a face on the loss.
Henry,
Wilfred Owens' Dolce et Decorum Est is the poem that breaks my heart each time I read it. I assume you know it? Thank you so much for sharing with me In Flanders Field. I believe my grandfather died at the Somme, but I could be wrong.
Beautifully, touchingly said, Lorraine.
No I hadn't heard of that one, or of its author, Wilfred Owen. But I have now. Thank you. It's a powerful poem. It's a shame that both men, Owen and McCrae, had to die in that war.And fitting that both, being casualties of it, should leave us such differing yet equally powerful and truthful views of their war. Like so much of life, there is no one side to it. All are true, or have truth in them.
It's good you recieved the informationon your Great Grandfather. I hope some time you are able to find more and fill in some gaps. wonderful piece.
Lorraine, thank you for your post, for sharing your family with us. I've also lived in England, and seen the lists and lists of names on every memorial in every tiny village. It is sad and senseless that we do this again and again, generation after generation. Thank you for putting this into words.
what an intense and meaningful post--on many levels
For those who don't know the Wilfred Owens' poem, it really is a classic.

Wilfred Owen

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Thank you for such passion in reminding us of our lost great ones.