A real piece for the writers out there: Fay’s response to the trigger ‘call’, tells a moving story of how she came about writing the original poem.
The Call, by Fay Marie Morris
During early spring, 2015, I was given a journal that had been handwritten by my uncle Vic. He was writing about his experiences while on active service during WW2. It starts:
B N [battallion] EMBARKED ON TROOPSHIP S.S. CANTERBURY AT NEWHAVEN SUSSEX. FOR FRANCE.
THIS WAS IT. D DAY TROOPS SAILED DOWN COAST TO PORTSMOUTH AND CROSSED THE CHANNEL DURING
NIGHT. DEAR OLD ENGLAND LEFT BEHIND’…
I can’t explain my feelings when I first read it. Uncle Vic was my mother’s little brother and they were very close. He was 3 years old and my mother was 7 when she was given the job of bringing him up. Their mother had died suddenly in 1921 and their father, a Durham coal-miner, had struggled with both his loss and being solely responsible for the welfare of 4 motherless children.
I really admired my uncle Vic, better known as Dobbie. He was such a lovely man and would light up a room whenever he walked in. He always saw the funny side of everything and his words throughout the journal highlight this, brilliantly. Towards the bottom of the first page he writes, STILL HAD TO WADE THROUGH WATER. [160 BDE?] GERMAN SHELLS STILL WHINING OVER OUR HEADS INTO THE SEA. ON DRY LAND AT LAST BUT IN FRANCE. KEPT WISHING I HAD JOINED THE NAVY… which is the first of many funny quips he inserted into the most dangerous of situations. No wonder everyone loved him!
He spent his 5 war years in the Welsh Regiment and was later mentioned in dispatches for distinguished service gallantry in North West Europe. His mates wrote to the local newspaper asking if they would include the letter, ‘FOR HIS FOLKS TO READ, AS THEY WOULD NEVER READ IT FROM HIM.’ They said.
Thankfully, both the letter and journal were kept safe and sound by my mum’s older sister, auntie Minnie but it ends abruptly, on page 51 and these were his last words, ‘ THE MO WAS KEPT BUSY! THE PADRE HAD PLENTY TO DO AS WELL!’
He’d been writing about the difficulty of keeping the ‘LINES’ operative due to ‘JERRY STONKING [SHELLING] AT REGULAR INTERVALS’, stretcher bearers [S-BS] bringing people in from the ‘COYS? and of the horrific injuries and lack of ‘FIELD DRESSINGS’. He describes how he and others had had to rip off their own field dressings to help a truck driver who was unloading his truck when it got a direct hit. He says ‘HE WASN’T HALF IN A MESS. HE WAS FULL OF HOLES AND THE BLOOD WAS RUNNING FROM HIS EARS EYES NOSE AND MOUTH’.
Something not included in the journal, and only known by me because of listening in to family conversations. Later in the war his battalion was stationed behind enemy lines in The Reichwell Forest [not sure of spelling] somewhere in N.W. Germany. His battalion liberated Belsen/Bergen Concentration Camp, an experience he never ever came to terms with.
I feel very sad that my mother [the Nan or Nancy mentioned several times throughout the journal] knew nothing of it. He often wrote that he wondered how she was and what she was doing and I only found out about the journal myself because my cousin Peter happened to come across it when clearing out his mother’s [my auntie Minnie’s] affects, after she died. He then put it in a drawer and forgot about it for several decades. He was an old man when he passed it on to me in 2015 and asked if I would let uncle Vic’s kids know about it.
Thankfully, my daughter Lisa helped me scan the 60 odd pages in the small, buff coloured notebook. She then enlarged and attempted to clarify them, while taking great care not to lose the integrity of the original, sometimes scribbled, faded pencil handwriting.
I sent Ian, his eldest son, the original notebook, of which he knew nothing. We made 7 copies altogether and sent one to each of his 3 kids, another for cousin Peter and 1 each for me and my 2.
I heard recently that Ian has donated the original notebook to Bishop Auckland War Museum. Uncle Vic was a well-liked and highly respected Town Councillor for many years and a local park has since been created and named in his honour, with shiny brass plaque to prove it, something I’m sure he would have hated.
After reading through the journal, several times, I felt compelled to write a poem about the waste and futility of war and decided to set it during WW1, but, I have no idea why except that by distancing myself from it, might have made it a little easier to write…
ANSWERING THE CALL.
It had been such a long time since daybreak
and the fighting was not over yet.
He waited, next to the rest of his mates
with beads of sweat running down his neck.
Thinking of Mary, his sweetheart back home,
wondering when he’d see her again.
He pictured her face and her golden hair
instead of the mud and pouring rain.
Would she be waiting when all this was done?
Would she consent to become his bride?
Would they be happy and have many bairns?
Would they stay together all their lives?
Her eyes were the blue of forget-me-nots
and her lips were like soft pink rose buds.
She smelt of green meadows in early spring
and of fresh new growth, so clean and good.
He remembered her, standing in the lane,
with salty tears streaming down her face.
He wondered if she’d be there at the end
still dressed like a maid, in snow white lace.
His mother had cried as she waved farewell
and he just marched away from her arms.
His father had stood with stiff upper lip
while suppressing the worst of his qualms.
He had answered the call to arms with pride
and was ready and eager to go.
Until he heard screams and the sound of guns,
something we hope we will never know.
All of his dreams disappeared in a flash
and his heart seemed to turn into ice
but he steeled himself, went over the top… s
ealing his fate with the roll of a dice.
By Faymarie Morris. Nov 2016
I very nearly didn’t finish it but the poem began to assert itself after I read the last few pages of the notebook for about the 5th time.
Uncle Vic had made a list of all his ‘GIRLS’, starting when he was only 15 and I couldn’t understand why, until I realised it was probably to try and take his mind off what was happening to him or what he was expected to do. I imagine that anything from his youth would have been better than the reality of the situation, and listing his many girlfriends would have been a distraction he’d have welcomed with open arms.
The last girl he wrote about was Margaret Wright, my mother’s best friend and much later, her bridesmaid. He said how lovely she was but that he was too shy. He said he would have asked her to marry him, but was too slow.
In my poem, the soldier is thinking about Mary, his girl back home. A scenario that must have been played out many millions of times, in all the trenches or bivouacs of every war that has ever been fought.
Also, I would like to dedicate the poem to the memory of my dad’s sister, auntie Louie, who was only 21 when she learned that her fiancee had lost his life in Ypres, on the same day he arrived there. This fact seemed to have coloured the rest of her life because she never married. I really loved my eccentric auntie Louie, she was certainly a one off, but most people saw her as a sad, weird, lonely old spinster until the day she died, aged 86.
LEST WE FORGET!!