Category Archives: Death

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae is remembered for what is probably the best known and most popular of all First World War poetry.  It is believed that he was so moved by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmet, who had been killed by a shell burst, and inspired by the profusion of wild poppies he could see in the nearby cemetery, that he wrote In Flanders Fields. Sadly, John McCrae did not survive WW1; he died from pneumonia whilst on active duty in 1918.  He is buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Wimereux Communal cemetery.

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We live, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold on high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, Canadian Army (1872-1918)

My mother’s father was involved in this war and served in many areas of conflict – but not in Flanders.  He died in the mid-1930s and, according to my mother, the doctor said it was because of what he did in the war.

 

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This is a story that perhaps we wish had not happened

It was on this day – Monday 16th July 1945 – that the first atomic bomb was detonated at a desert site in New Mexico, close to the Los Alamos laboratory where the device had been built.

Three weeks later, on Monday 6th August 1945, a similar device was used on Hiroshima.

Quoted in the New York Times on Saturday 25th May 1946 Albert Einstein commented:
‘The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.’

I loved reading the stories of this man

For most of those reading this there may be the thought ‘Who’s he?’ or ‘So what?’  For men of a certain age – and maybe some ladies – the outlaw Billy the Kid was a part of our youth – part of a time when young boys would have great fun playing cowboys and watching cowboy films in the cinema and on television.   I’m afraid I can’t avoid telling a bit more about Billy – and about Sheriff Pat Garrett.  Please feel free to move on to something else!

On Thursday 14th July 1881 one Henry McCarty – known by many over the years as William H. Bonney and even more as Billy the Kid – was shot and killed by Sherriff Pat Garrett outside Fort Sumner, USA.  For most of those reading this there may be the thought ‘Who’s he?’ or ‘So what?’  For men of a certain age – and maybe some ladies – the outlaw Billy the Kid was a part of our youth – part of a time when young boys would have great fun playing cowboys and watching cowboy films in the cinema and on television.

Billy the Kidd was first arrest was for stealing food in late 1875, and within five months he was arrested for stealing clothing and firearms. His escape from jail two days later and flight from New Mexico Territory into Arizona Territory made him both an outlaw and a federal fugitive.

After murdering a blacksmith during an altercation in August 1877, Bonney became a wanted man in Arizona Territory and returned to New Mexico, where he joined a group of cattle rustlers. He became a well-known figure in the region when he joined the Regulators and took part in the Lincoln County War. In April 1878, however, the Regulators killed three men, including Lincoln County Sheriff William J Brady and one of his deputies. Bonney and two other Regulators were later charged with killing all three men.

Bonney’s notoriety grew in December 1880 when the Las Vegas Gazette in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the New York Sun carried stories about his crimes. He was captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett later that same month, tried and convicted of the murder of Brady in April 1881, and sentenced to hang in May of that year. Bonney escaped from jail on April 28th 1881, killing two sheriff’s deputies in the process, and evaded capture for more than two months. He ultimately was shot and killed by Garrett in Fort Sumner on July 14th 1881. Over the next several decades, legends grew that Bonney had not died that night, and a number of men claimed they were him.

 

A Snippet from 11th May

How often have you had your own thoughts on the actions and performance of parliamentarians at large and ministers in particular?  Fortunately this particular story has never been repeated!

It was on this day – Monday 11th May 1812 – that Spencer Perceval, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons.  The assassin was John Bellingham, a merchant and broker who bore a grudge against the British government for failing to help him when he was in severe legal and financial difficulties abroad.

Spencer Perceval is the only British prime minister to have been killed while in office.

The whole story of John Bellingham’s life and death is told on:
wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bellingham
and
http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng550.htm

Scott of the Antarctic

It was on this day – 29th March 1912 – that Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his men died.

Work had been going on for most of 1911 setting up a base, laying provision depots, doing geological surveys, collecting various specimens and experimenting with their equipment and rations.  It was in September when the group of 16 – mainly support – men set out towards the Pole. Bit by bit the support headed back to base and, on 3rd January 1912, Captain Scott decided who would be with him on the final trek to the Pole.  It was himself, of course plus Edward Wilson, Lawrence Oates, Henry Bowers and Edgar Evans.  14 days later, on 17th January 1912, the team reached the Pole.

There they saw Amundsen’s flag that had been planted there a month earlier.

It’s hard to imagine the overwhelming disappointment the five must have felt.

Captain Scott wrote in there book: “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.

The return journey started out well, but rations were low and the men lost condition. Evans’ frostbite worsened and he died on 17th February. Oates also suffered frostbite.  This delayed the rest of the party and, on 16th March, he put on his boots for the last time and stepped out into a blizzard saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time.

Scott acknowledged his sacrifice recording that: “We knew that Oates was walking to his death… it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.

Scott, Wilson and Bowers continued towards the ‘One Ton’ depot which they knew could save them.  However, an unseasonal blizzard halted them just 11 miles short of their target and, malnourished, frostbitten, weak and trapped inside the tent by the weather, they knew what was coming.

I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.”

Scott was probably the last of the three to die on 29th March 1912.

Eight months later a search party found the tent and its content of rolls of photographs, meteorological observations, diaries and fossils that had been gathered on the way back from the Pole.

They left the bodies in the tent and buried them under a mound of snow.

A Final Farewell

My father and I stood in silence at the bottom of the panel as we looked at the name carved there – Jaime Domenech – a brave ancestor from many years ago.

It was the chief councillor who broke into our thoughts at last.

“Now you know what happened to your ancestor. He did not die. He lived, and he and his men gave life to this valley, this village. The Indians did not go away. They camped outside the valley, making it impossible for Jaime Domenech and his soldiers to escape.”

“Very soon, they found that they did not want to escape. They liked the tranquillity of the valley. There were many Indian villages in the hills and mountains around. In time the Indian maidens came to the valley. The attraction of the strange fair-skinned men overcame their fear of Quetzalcóatl. In fact, they believed the newcomers were the children of Quetzalcóatl, and they were pleased to come and live with them. They married the soldiers. More and more the Spanish and Indian bloods mixed. The children of these marriages were brought up in the traditions of old Spain. In time the population increased to over 600 souls.

“Then the maidens stopped coming. The Indian tribes moved away. Slowly the numbers in the valley started to fall. We are now less than one hundred, with few young men and no young women to continue our village. In a few more years our village will be empty; a home for ghosts and memories. It will be returned to Quetzalcóatl. We had hoped that we would go without anyone ever knowing we had been here.”

“We are the first white men to visit this valley in all those years?” My father’s voice was hushed.

The old man nodded. “Yes Señor. No man from Cortez’s force found the soldiers. The maidens that came never returned to their villages so building on the fear of Quetzalcóatl that kept the Indian warriors out. Everyone here can trace their ancestry to one of that first brave band; the band led by your ancestor Jaime Domenech.”

My father and I stood there silently, thinking about the life these people had led over the previous 400 years.

At last my father spoke: “It is a strange story you tell, Señor. My son and I have many questions to ask but that would be prying into your private history. You said you wished to leave this valley as you came, with no one knowing you have been here. We will respect that wish.”

He reached into the shoulder bag that lay at his feet. “All the notes I have made in coming to this valley of yours are in this book. I give it to you to do with as you wish. Your secret will remain safe with us. No one will ever find your valley because of us.” With that, father handed his journal to the elder who took it with a smile.

“Thank you,” was all he said.

We left the valley, escorted by the same two men we first met. They took us past their cottage to the edge of the valley near where we had entered. As we stood on the ridge, looking back to the edge of the valley and the village my father turned to the two men.

“One question, if I may, my friends. What is the name of your chief councillor, the man we have been talking with in the large hall?”

It was councillor Blue Belt who replied in that strange lilting tongue so like, and yet so unlike, our own. “His name, Señor, is Jaime Domenech. A direct descendent of the leader of the band of soldiers who first came to this valley. You and he are of the same family, Señor.”

 

The Sunday after

The Sunday papers all told of the story – this one is from the Sunday Express – it says:

‘Sometimes a baby’s cry broke the stillness’: Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, Princes and Chancellors from 111 nations joined a countless throng of humble people yesterday in the final massive act of homage to Sir Winston Churchill.  It was an occasion of pomp and pageantry, pride and sorry, which will not be equalled in the lifetime of any who saw it.

And yet what there was to say could be said simply.

The thoughts of those who stood in the windswept streets and the millions who watched on television were summed up in one message.  It was from the Queen, and was in the circular wreath of white flowers – freesias, arum lilies, gladioli, and lilies of the valley – which she sent to the interment at Bladon Church.  It was written in her own hand and said:

“From the nation and the Commonwealth:
In grateful remembrance.
Elizabeth R”

No one can say with certainty how many people stood and shivered in the bitter east wind to honour Sir Winston. Probably there were around half a million.

A day when Britain stood still

This Saturday, 30th January 1965, saw one of the largest assemblies of world statesmen in history when Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was held – regarded by many as a day when Britain ‘stood still’.

The following is based mainly on BBC reports with personal memories included:

‘Thousands of people had paid their last respects to Britain’s greatest wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill who was buried today after a full state funeral. A total of 321,360 people filed past the catafalque during the three days of his lying-in-state.

Silent crowds lined the streets to watch the gun carriage bearing Sir Winston’s coffin leave Westminster Hall as Big Ben struck 09.45. The procession travelled slowly through central London to St Paul’s Cathedral for the funeral service.

Many millions around the world watched the funeral procession at home and abroad as television pictures were beamed from 40 BBC cameras placed along the route.

The mourners were led by Sir Winston’s wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, his son Randolph and daughters Mary Soames and Lady Sarah Audley. The Queen and other members of the Royal family; the Prime Minister Mr Harold Wilson and representatives of 112 countries packed into the Cathedral for the service.

The funeral cortege was accompanied by a 19-gun salute and an RAF fly-past as it began the journey to Sir Winston’s final resting place. At Tower Hill the coffin was piped aboard the launch ‘Havengore‘ for the voyage up the Thames and then toWaterloo Station where the coffin was placed onto a train drawn by a Battle of Britain locomotive named Winston Churchill.  Thousands gathered to pay tribute at wayside stations as the coffin passed while, at many football matches, a two-minute silence was observed.

Sir Winston was finally laid to rest in the Oxfordshire parish churchyard of Bladon, close to Blenheim Palace where he was born 90 years before.  Only family members were present at his internment.

 

 

A late Friday night/Saturday morning

The night of Friday, 29th January 1965, was one of bitter rain and snow but that didn’t stop many men and women from taking up their positions for the following day’s state funeral.

While they were taking their places in the cold and wet the the Earl Marshal, Duke of Norfolk, was rehearsing the pallbearers duties inside St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Throughout that day and night there was a steady drumbeat, beating out the minutes in that day-long final flurry of rehearsals for the nation’s last tribute to Sir Winston Churchill.

The sound of 65 beats to the minute on a black-draped drum started in the pre-dawn darkness and echoed eerily through empty streets as 5,000 Servicemen escorted the heavy gun carriage and a lead-weighted coffin in a ghostly parade along the funeral route.  Come the morning daylight that will carry Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill in the first stage of his final resting place.

The troops left Westminster as Big Ben struck 04.45 a.m.

It is New Year’s Eve – and things happen

Tomorrow is a New Year; new work; new challenges – and long standing beliefs. These beliefs go back to happenings long ago – but were they ‘real happeningsor are they just stories?  No-one knows for certain – but while there is doubt there is risk so when in doubt….. – now that’s up to you!  The decision is up to you – and this is one such situation.

Walk along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on this night and you’ll come across the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. This fishing community, 16 miles south of Aberdeen, is ‘home’ to one of the unique Hogmanay festivals in Scotland – and argued by many as the best.

For over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street has been lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads. It looks dangerous but the fireballs are very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours!  Now, however, they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, march down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

As you would expect, fireball-swinging is an energetic activity. One regular participant recorded recently that: “I can personally attest to the effort needed to continue swinging for the 10-15 minutes the ball will burn.”  

The ceremony is said to date from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but these torch processions can be dated back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and there are a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

Another, more detailed, theory is that at some time in the Dark Ages a shooting star appeared above what is now Stonehaven and that those living nearby had bumper crops in the following year. The seers of the tribe then attributed this prosperity to the coming of the shooting star.  The Fireball is regarded as a mimic of that shooting star and that recalling it at this time will bring a return of that prosperity.

Now, whatever the background, this celebration has become such a popular event that, in the interests of safety, barriers are erected to separate the swingers and pipe bands, and control the thousands that come to spectate! But the spectacle and atmosphere are still second to none.