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According to official records, my Great Uncle Archibald was killed 100 years ago today.

May 17, 2015

trench

According to official records, my Great Uncle Archibald was killed 100 years ago today. At the Battle of Festubert.

Or at least according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx, he was killed on May 17 1915.  (When you have a surname like mine, such searches are swift and not very confusing).  And I know that his regiment – Kings Regiment Liverpool were at that time deployed at the Battle of Festubert.

Heard of it?  Probably not.  The Battle of Festubert involved the Western Allies acquiring a small patch of strategically insignificant territory at the cost of far too many casualties.  Which means that as a Western Front battle, it doesn’t exactly stand out from the pack.

I have no image of Great Uncle Archie.  His character is a complete blank to me.  I’ve never seen a photo of him.  I’ve only ever seen one photo of his brother my grandfather.  I sometimes wonder how it must have affected his brother.  My Grandfather, as I’ve had cause to observe before, did not serve in World War One because of his acute psoriasis.  Too ugly for trench warfare, in other words.  Would have made the whole affair downright depressing, you might say.

So my Grandfather Conrad stayed at home while his younger brother joined up, shipped out, and was shot down.  One hundred years ago today.

His medal is presumably still in my mother’s house.  It belonged to my father whom I miss, and before that to his father whom I missed altogether.  My father of course knew Archibald Brunstrom no more than I did and could communicate little or nothing about him.  He had no children (that I ever heard of) and so his influence has been more elusive, less direct and quantifiable than most humans.  He has persisted (just as everything that has ever lived and breathed persists) more as a gap, a lacking in the lives of others – an Archibald shaped hole that determined the choices, conscious and unconscious, of those who survived him.

Every so often, as children, we used to take the medal out and try and polish it up a bit or just pass it back and forth. Feeling the weight of it. Now that the last, the very last survivors of that conflict have passed – for the most part using their final wheezing breaths to denounce the absolute evil of war – there’s an obligation (I think) to use these traces, these anniversaries, these trinkets to reassemble as much as possible of the life that was, to reconstitute, if possible the sense of infinite imaginative energy in each and every human, and the sense of infinite loss invested with every unnecessary abbreviation of life.

One hundred years ago today, a relative of mine died for no very good reason.  I’ve never had any knowledge of him and I don’t know anyone who still has any real knowledge of him.  Grief is therefore ludicrous.  Anger is not.

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