Ancestors

Remembrance Day 2018: a richer dust

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, then called The Great War. No one imagined that another war of such devastation would start just two decades later…. or the rise of so many conflicts, wars and terrorism across our planet to this day.

While I deplore the “culture of war”, I honour and respect those who joined in the fight against hatred and evil, and fought for human rights. I give gratitude for our collective ancestors who fought for their descendants and for better lives for all.

I’m thinking of all the men and women across the world in service, in battle, first responders, and the fallen of all countries, each — in the words of poet WW1 poet Rupert Brooke —  “a richer dust … shaped, made aware… blest by suns of home”.

My grandfather fought in World War One. Pictured here is two generations of Ratcliffe men: sitting is my great-grandfather Thomas Martin Ratcliffe, b 1869, and standing is my grandfather Thomas William Ratcliffe, b. 1897. This picture was taken around 1917, when young Thomas would have been 20 and about to depart for France with the Lancashire regiment to fight “The Great War” which ended 100 years ago today.

A Richer Dust

My father — who served in the British Royal Navy — loved poetry, and this was his favourite poem, “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke, who had enlisted in the British army at the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 and continued to write his poetry. Brooke died of sepsis en route to the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. He was buried in an olive grove on the Greek Island of Skyros.

The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke, 1914

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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