Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sarah’s Secret

The note of alarm in my grandson’s voice caused me to rush downstairs as fast as the stair-lift could carry me. He was in the study with my antique compendium on the desk in front of him- its doors wide open.
‘Oh Sam you haven’t!’

Sam was fascinated by the little rolls of paper inside the compendium and the small brass screws one turned to adjust the day, month and year. I had bought it at a sale on my last visit to Lancashire and the date was fixed at the 1st July 1916. I felt something momentous must have happened on this date and told Sam we should not alter it out of respect for the previous owner.

‘I didn’t touch the date Gran. Honestly! I just touched this little knob and the drawer shot out.’
A secret drawer! And there was something in it. With shaking hands I gently retrieved a letter, a newspaper cutting and something wrapped in yellowed tissue which looked like a crushed bluebell. With help from Sam I read the following letter:

Dear Lord Barraclough,

I am sending you my resignation as under-gardener with an ache in my heart. Me and the lads from the village have signed up for the Accrington Pals and we are being shipped out tomorrow. Being a big lad they didn’t question my age, and the date of my 18th birthday must be our little secret. It is a comfort to know my mother will be looked after as you do with all your retainers.

I shall miss looking after Miss Sarah’s roses but I believe the poppies in Flanders are a sight to be seen. As a true patriot I know you will understand. I must do my best for King and country. We are going to put the kibosh on the Kaiser and beat the Hun. We’ll be back in Blighty- victorious by the time the bluebells are out in Ramsgill Wood.
Always your faithful servant,
Ned Owens

PS: Please say goodbye to Miss Sarah and give her my best.
The newspaper cutting’s headline said:

584 men were killed, missing or wounded.

I thought back to when I bought the compendium. I was sad to see Broughton Manor for sale. The family had died out with the death of the old, unmarried daughter Sarah. There were two portraits of her in the sale which I coveted but they were way out of my price range. One as a lovely young girl, in a bluebell wood, and one as a frail old lady, looking so sad it made me want to weep.

‘Don’t get upset Gran. We can put it all back and pretend we never found it,’
I looked at my grand-son. Thank God he would not be sacrificed like Ned. That awful war and the one after it had been wars to end all wars. Hadn’t they?

I wrote this, some time ago, for Remembrance Day.


R. Sherman said...

I read a book by Lyn MacDonald about the Battle of the Somme and the "Pals Battalions." Moving stuff.

Dr Maroon said...

Please tell me this is a little commentary you wrote. It's too Hellish to contemplate otherwise.

PI said...

Randall: we never seem to learn the lesson do we?

Doc: the compendium is real - the rest just my imagination. Don't let it upsset you.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Imagination or not, that story was close to reality for hundreds of thousands of families. Thank you Pat. But no, we don't, do we. Learn the lesson.

Dr Maroon said...

I think you should publish this and any more you've got tucked away.

PI said...

daphne: I find the statistics for WW1 beyond belief. BTW I realise you can get lots of channels now; if you haven't already - try the History Channel. Keeps himself quiet for hours and I find it very nostalgic.

Doc: OK - I'll just click my fingers and it shall be done :)

R. Sherman said...

I tried to point a few readers to this story, dear. I hope they drop by.


PI said...

Randall: you're a guid wee laddie!
(Just been reading Scottish poetry!)

kenju said...

Please publish it, Pat, it is wonderful!!

PI said...

Thank you Judy; that inspired me to get up early and find the letter from Sarah. My filing leaves a lot to be desired!

granny p said...

Strange isn't it. Here we are, not far off a century on, yet people like you and me still have uncles died in WWI. The grief lived on in my family all my father's life - through my grandmother till she died, then him. We're still affected by that grief. In intangible but real ways.

PI said...

granny p: My uncles survived the war but their health was shattered and they all died before their allotted span. The grief - as you say - lives on, for all those who suffered.

apprentice said...

Lovely piece. Like many families my was very affected by WWI. My mother father and four uncles all fought, all came back, one without his leg, he one with a metal plate in his skull. My father's father fought in WWi and WWII and was interviewed by the Imperial War Museum in his 80s. He lived to be 96.

My great gran had to take in washing to make ends meet while she had 5 sons at the front, her husband was diabetic and there was no treatment then.

My great aunt had lots of embroidered keepsakes that she sent to her fiance, forget me knots etc, he was killed and she never ever married.

PI said...

apprentice: what a family! You should be really proud of them. Can you imagine having to cope with all that? Five sons!
For years I thought Brian Ashworth's Mum did our washing and was dismayed when I found it was the other way round! And I feel so sad for the unmarried women who had lost their loves in the war. William's aunt Rose was such a one. She had a sharp tongue but can you wonder, and she was so kind to us.


oh eck. Read the second first. humanity aren't very good at happy endings outside the movies are we?

PI said...

4d: well that is fiction but there are so many, so sad, that are factual. But we're all going to cheer up now:)