I came across an old autograph book whilst clearing out things from my mother’s house in Northampton. All the entries were made between 10th April 1912 and 16th April 1918 mostly by young men prior to their departure to Flanders before and during the first war. It seems they were collected by someone who wanted at least to keep a record.
One of these pages written in April 1918 stood out in particular; not only because it is signed by another ‘namesake’ but mainly because of the elegance and power of the prose.
By April 1918 the war was coming to an end but the writer would not have known that. He would have been only aware that the war had already been raging for almost four years, the hospitals were full of the wounded and of the horror stories that had been discussed with disbelief and maybe anger.
Nevertheless, hundreds continued to volunteer for service right up until the end of the war through patriotism or a sense of duty, even though conscription by this time had also been introduced. I’ve no idea of the circumstances in his actual case but it seems clear that this poor bloke would have well known of the slim odds of survival that awaited him.
The eloquence of the words are clearly by a gifted poet and as it turns out are part of a longer poem by the American, Eugene Field written probably in the 1880’s. But the fact that that this particular extract was chosen under these circumstances adds poignancy and still gives it massive impact because it so eloquently sums up the horrors of that war and the stoicism of the British.
Good Bye and God Bless You
I love the words, perhaps because,
When I was leaving Mother,
Standing at last in solemn pause
We looked at one another,
And I, I saw in Mother’s eyes
The love she could not tell me,
A love eternal as the skies,
Whatever fate befell me.
She let no tear bedim her eye,
For fear that might distress me,
But, kissing me, she said good-bye,
And asked our God to bless me.
L. Warren / Boston / 15th April 1918
Now; about a hundred years later, it seems unreal that humanity could have taken such a wrong turn, especially right in the midst of the cradle of European civilisation.
It should also serve as another reminder for us to never ever allow it to happen again and as some sort of reference for the fools we elect to govern us when they so quickly start to pontificate when seeking justification for endangering human life.
Anyway….a fitting tribute to Margaret Anne Warren 4th July 1935 – 29th November 2015 whom thankfully never had to say such a goodbye but I know certainly shared these views.