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Respecting the Ancientry.


ON REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY,  attended our local church, St Johns, with my wife, her daughter and our eldest grandson, who is now 20. None of us is religious. All of us are technically atheists and my wife and I are Christian atheist or atheist Christian, or cultural Christian, however you want to term it. After coming to the conclusion a few years ago that the educational and political establishment were deliberately downgrading the relevance of Christianity to our culture my wife and I decided to acquaint those grandchildren near to us with something traditional, ie, services on Remembrance Day and in the lead-up to Christmas.

Since this particular service commemorated the final year of the Great War it had special significance. My wife’s father served in the war, having lied about his age to be conscripted. We have not been able to piece together very much about his time of service yet. My own grandfather also served, in the Royal Field Artillery. I managed to get hold of copies of his military history. He signed up within a month of the war starting, having just reached the age of 19. He went in as a lowly Bombardier and came out in 1919 as a Lieutenant.

He survived the war, mainly, I think, because he was assigned to clerical work. From what I can understand of the records he was back and forth between France and England, and had a couple of spells of sickness with scabies and heart arrhythmia. Nothing seemed to fit, however, with some of the tales, coming down from the distaff side of the family (he was my mother’s father) of him having to run in the middle of the night leaving all his gear behind, or of getting cut up in barbed wire, or waking up at nights screaming years afterwards. I don’t think many desk jobs account for that.

Just two entries on a Casualty Report explain it all. The entry for 25 February 1918 says he was promoted “To acting Town Major” of Esmery-Hallon (that is, in charge of the place, or what was left of it). Esmery-Hallon is just down the road from Saint Quentin: not all that far from the front. The entry for 21 March says “Relinquished appnt of Town Major”. No explanation of why he was only there for one month. Except, of course, that on Thursday, 21 March, the Germans launched their massive counter offensive, know variously as the Spring Offensive, the Ludendorff Offensive, the Saint Michael Offensive or the Kaiserschlacht. Although they did not get to Esmery-Hallon till the Sunday my guess is that in the interim my dear old Grandpa was involved in some frenetic and terrifying activity that eventually saw him retreating with the rest of the British army. We shall never know.

I don’t know what he or my grandmother would have thought about the EU. They died before Britain joined the Common Market as it was then called. I suspect they may have been ambivalent at best. My grandmother despised the French (“let us down in both world wars,” I recall her saying) and there was little love among most Brits of their age, and my father’s, for the Germans. They had reasons for their hatreds. Their quiet patriotism was unquestioned. It had been forged in fire and hardship.

The Franco-German axis represents everything my forebears resisted: German domination with French collaboration.

It has become a commonplace to complain that the sacrifice of those two generations has turned out to be in vain, given that the sovereignty of the nation they held so dear has been sold down the EU river by the political class. It’s no less true for being a commonplace. The Franco-German axis that constitutes the driving force of the European project represents everything my forebears resisted: German domination of the continent, combined with French collaboration. The sentiment will offend the postwar peacenik types who have come to control every institution of the country with their invertebrate loathing of their own culture. The kind of people of whom Theresa May is a grovelling example.

Their actions show they have no respect for our parents and grandparents, and by extension no respect for us. They’re like the youngsters criticised in The Winter’s Tale for “wronging the ancientry”. We can forgive the young for being careless and disrespectful. These people are old enough to know better. They have no excuse. And just as we will always remember those who suffered or died for our country all those years ago, these we will never forgive for betraying it.

Currente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press).

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