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Letter from beyond the grave

 

I long to hold you in my arms

Loving you in innocence.

I can’t share with you my hopes

Nor shield you from my memories

 

Our children I’ll not see again.

Maybe they’ll be proud

To have had a soldier dad

Little knowing the cruel reality.

 

Growing Old

 

Gone are my days of running free

Up the beckoning hills to see

Beguiling vistas from the tops.

 

For me no more dancing the highland fling

With effortless grace, birling to the skirling

Pipes.   Poignant memories of youth.

 

But I survived.

Am still alive

Mourning those who died

 

 

Back to the beginning

 

Skull soaks in earth

Body scattered

Bones disunited

 

Boom.   Shower of mud

Deafens as it destroys

Consciousness and life

 

Almost silently the bomb

Soars gracefully to its random

Landing pad, seeking flesh.

 

 

Victim

 

Cold I may be

That is my nature.

The raw materials I am made of

Have been made cruel by man.

I cannot pull the trigger

Nor kill with bayonet.

I am a victim too.

 

The end comes from the beginning

 

My skull is cradled

In a stranger’s foot

Pillowed in mud

Suffocating

 

Limbs I know not where

Blown asunder

Anonymous

 

Boom

The impact

Made an end

To my being

 

The bomb sailed almost silently

To its resting place

The gunner lit the fuse.

 

The end

Skull sulking into mud

Sinking anonymously

Into oblivion

 

Limbs detached

Twitch no more

But gleam white

In the moonlight

When washed clean

 

Rats gorge

 

A soldier’s lament

 

I love you

I can’t be with you

King and country called

Not revealing the

Reality

Of

War

 

Would it have changed my mind?

The shame of not engaging worth enduring?

At least I’d have been with you still.

The stigma would have faded.

Medals are no substitute for a dead dad

 

I’m not coming home

 

My loves

You are in my thoughts

Always.

 

It is not glorious

Here

May you be spared

The reality

 

Inhumanity

Detached brutality

 

The guns fire randomly

No looking the enemy in the eye

So much easier that way

 

But the nightmares which follow

I hope you’ll never know

 

The villain

 

Steel

Cold

Harsh

Moulded by craftsmen

In their thousands

Perfect precision instruments

Heralding destruction

Not of our choosing

Not of our design.

We can’t pull the trigger.

 

                                                                Ladies who knit

 

The sun streams through the generous bay window of the morning room, bringing out the rich jewel colours of the Persian carpets.   A lavish arrangement of red roses in an elegant cut glass vase sits on a table near the grand piano, adding to the air of understated luxury.

‘I wonder if they were sent up from London’ Jeannie whispers as she starts the tricky bit of turning the heel of the sock she is knitting.

The delicate French clock on the marble mantlepiece signals the half hour but the chimes are masked by the clicking of knitting needles and quiet chatter.

‘What it is to be rich’ sighed Hetty.

‘But then the Fletchers are aye ready to help.   Mind how Mr Fletcher volunteered his traction engine and transport wagons to move the munitions and equipment from Fortrose Station to Cromarty?’

‘And even before the war he was helping the weans, sending rabbits from the estate to the school for their soup.’

‘Other farmers helped too, donating tatties and neeps.’  Jeannie leant nearer to Hetty.   ‘Have you heard the crack about Margaret Rose that was the postie?’  

‘I mind Hannah Patience took over from her a whilie back.   That Margaret doesn’t stick at anything for long.   What has she been up to the now Jeannie?’

‘Land girl.   That’s what.’

‘Away.   Whit does she ken about farming?  Her family has aye been into the herring fishing.   Mind she took against being a herring girl after the one season.  I can’t blame her mind.  Following the fleet frae Wick to I dinna ken where, maybe Newcastle, gutting herring and salting them down in they muckle great barrels.   Hands aye getting nicked by the gutting knives and the salt is that nippy.  Mind you, the fish oils kept the girls’ hands very soft’

‘The way I heard it, Hetty, Margaret went to thon classes in Fortrose Academy, August they were, run by Miss Chew, her frae the North of Scotland Agricultural College.’

‘Whit for?’

‘Seemingly she was on about dairying, butter making and the like.    Margaret had to do exams an’ all.’

‘Och I, I mind someone talking about the sore need for milkmaids.   So she’s got a job then?’

‘At Ness Farm, near Fortrose.   That Miss MacLean at the Employment Exchange in Inverness fixed her up there.’

‘Good morning ladies.    How are you all today?’   Their chat was interrupted by Mrs Fletcher, owner of Rosehaugh Hall, a lady well-known for her war work.   She beamed at the dozen or so ladies seated in small groups in her morning room.   ‘Soon time for a tea break I think.   Jason will be bringing in the trolley any minute now.’

‘I wonder if her cook has got any better at the shortbread.   She should take lessons from you Jeannie’ Hetty muttered.

‘Away with you.   I just make it the way my mother did.   Equal quantities of butter and plain flour, kneaded with some sugar and cornflour till it feels right.   A bairn could do it.’

Mrs Fletcher interrupted again.   ‘I see we have a newcomer to our circle.’

‘This is my niece, Phyllis Fleming’ Jeannie volunteered.   ‘Just back from working in a munitions factory in Sheffield she is.’

‘Welcome Phyllis.   What brought you back from such valuable war work?’

‘My mother took poorly.   My sister and me, we tossed for it to see who would come back.   I was fine pleased it was me.   The factory is so noisy and I was missing Avoch.’

‘And how is your mother?’

‘A bittie better, thank you Mrs Fletcher.   I can get out of the house for a few hours now and then.   I still want to do my bit for our boys so came along with Auntie Jeannie today.’

‘Very commendable.   I hope you will become part of our Avoch War Work Party.   The ladies meet here at Rosehaugh Hall every Tuesday morning.   You probably know Mrs Spence Ross, our President.’

‘Yes.   And my Auntie Jeannie has got me needles and wool for the socks.  What a pity we can’t use red wool, to cheer up the boys.’

‘Yes indeed, but seemingly if their feet get rubbed and sore, the red dye could cause an infection.   It is poisonous we are told.’

‘We knitted over 600 pairs of socks between us in 1915 – 1916’ interjected Miss Jack, the AWWP secretary.   ‘Did you know, 100 pairs are needed for every company so’

‘So every little helps’ added Miss Kelly.   ‘With my Treasurer’s hat on, I am pressing the Congregational Church to do another fundraiser.   We need to buy more wool, and then there are the shirts to think of.   Miss Fraser, the dressmaker in the High Street, says she is nearly out of material.’

‘No wonder’ smiled Mrs Fletcher.  ‘She is tireless.   She made over 200 shirts last year you know.   Ah.   Jason.  Tea.   Most welcome.   And shortbread.   Tuck in ladies.’

 

Note:  Although I have taken some liberties with the time line and the dialogue is fictional, all the facts and names are real.

Elanore Simpson

 

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