I was the only one on the bus this morning from Bury to Clare, enjoying the journey from the front of a double decker. Walking back again the leaves were in brilliant autumnal colours. Field maple is a luminous yellow, dogwood a maroon, blackberry leaves bright coral crimson, and a bumper crop of purple sloes stood out against yellow hazel bushes.
I dawdled in the various churches to see the preparations for the forthcoming Armistice Day on the centenary of the end of the First World War. St Peter and St Paul’s in Clare looked incredibly smart with beautifully arranged poppies and a red alter cloth. At the foot of the altar were two hassocks embroidered along the side with the word PEACE.
Walking on I took a detour to St Mary’s Hawkedon. This looked beautifully kept, too, with a brush left on the alter rail hinting at recent activity. The East window was filled with an assortment of medieval pieces of stained glass and the pew ends were full of individual detail and character. I am pleased it is a grade one listed building, but it shares with six other parishes and has a service once a fortnight. There was a wall painting of the Transfiguration above the East window, but I couldn’t make it out and was pleased to find a copy in the West end
The main activity, however, was further on- in St Andrew’s, Brockley. When I had visited before this Grade II* listed building had been closed. This time there were lights on!
I entered the church nervously as there were voices- there was a group setting up an art exhibition and lots of attention was focussed on Armistice Day. The Warden wanted to show me a display he had made for his grandfather and also his uncle who were both killed in the First World War. Five men from the village had died during that time, and a map of the village showed where they lived. It felt very personal and recalled for me the impact of that war on my own family. I cried.
Last year we had spent a week in Northern France, exploring the battlefield and War Grave Commission graveyards. I went to find the grave of my great uncle Geoffrey, killed at Passchendaele on September 19th 1917. I went with two of my children, and when we found the grave I wanted to talk to Geoffrey and tell him about all the things he had missed. My grandfather survived, writing poignant memories for Geoffrey’s family. He later went on to marry Geoffrey’s younger sister, my grandmother.
My mother has kept the postcard my grandfather sent back to England on the 11th November 1918. Soldiers were allowed to send messages by ticking a box. In a moment of intense understatement he ticked “I am quite well”.
By the time I departed from the happy atmosphere in Brockley church the light was fading. I took some photos of their art show
and walked back across the fields in the fading light, thinking about Uncle Geoffrey and all the other young men who lost their lives in that war. Between nine and eleven million military personnel and a further 8 million civilians lost their lives.
It got dark by the time I reached Mickley Green. I would not have minded but for cars which dazzled me with headlights on full beam. I hope this year’s Armistice Day can help lay ghosts at peace and ensure this never happens again.