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?
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.