Regrets mission inspir.., p.1
Regret's Mission - Inspired by the great Bernard Cornwell Sharpe, p.1Leigh Barker
Copyright 2014 Leigh Barker
Of course it was a fluke that I saw the headstones, but I believe it was also destiny, for seeing those markers in that rainswept cemetery changed my life forever. On any other day, I would have been complaining that the rain blowing in waves across the St. Symphorien cemetery was typical weather for my holiday, but standing before the rows of headstones that stretched away into the trees shrouded in mist, the rain seemed somehow appropriate.
Like so many had done before me, I walked slowly down the tree-lined path and past the obelisk, to stop at the top of a small bank overlooking the white headstones standing in lines across the neat lawn, and thought of all those young men sacrificed for politics and ego. I felt an overwhelming sadness wash over me, so left the small tour group and walked slowly down the slope and across the wet grass between the headstones to read the names of the young men who laid down their lives to save the world for us.
Men from the Royal Fusiliers, the Middlesex, Royal Irish and from regiments all across Britain lay in the quiet cemetery. Men from regiments fiercely proud of their tradition and history, but the ages on these stones told the true price of that tradition.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like, but how can anyone imagine anything like the so-called Great War, where death was dealt on an industrial scale? This soldier was twenty, another eighteen and these others, the saddest of all, were now just numbers, unknown boys whose families were left never knowing what had become of them. Had they died in pain, crying out for their loved ones? Or were they blown to oblivion before they realized they were dead? The torment must have stolen the lives of those who had been left behind.
A single shaft of sunlight broke through the leaden skies and illuminated two headstones standing a little apart between the grass and the leaves blown down from the hill. My imagination may since have painted the heavenly rays, but something drew me to that deserted corner on that cold day, and a sunray is one explanation that will keep me out of the long-armed canvas jacket.
As I looked down at the inscriptions above the simple crosses etched into the white stone, I couldn’t have foreseen the journey of pride and pain on which I was about to embark.
I share a surname with those on the headstones, but Brown is a common enough name that I also share with murderers, musicians and milkmen. It was perfectly normal to wonder who my namesakes were and how they’d come to this place, but the simple inscription touched me much deeper than mere curiosity. From the first moment I laid eyes on them, I was caught and needed to know their story, and that need was to become more demanding than any drug. I had to know them, to find out about their lives and perhaps to understand why they had thrown them away on something so futile.
I put a hand on each headstone and knelt down on the wet grass between the stones and felt the tears flow in warm drops on my cold face. It was foolish and perhaps even a little self-indulgent, but no amount of tea or teasing could have dried them.
I touched the engraved names and looked around to see if anyone was watching, but the cemetery was silent. Their names were given in military precision and simplicity: “.Sergeant J. Brown, Royal Fusiliers, 26 August 1914, Age 24” and “Sergeant A. Brown, Royal Field Artillery, 26 August 1914, Age 21”.
I stood up slowly and looked back along the row of stones. Why were these two set apart from the others? Perhaps as a mark of respect, or was it something more sinister? I had to know.
I walked slowly back up to the obelisk, looked back across the lawn, and made a silent promise. I wonder if I would have begun this search had I known I wouldn’t rest again for five long years.
Now, once again I stand before the headstones, but this time with understanding and humility, and a hope that these boys may at last rest a little easier.
I have walked in the shoes of these ordinary men who stood alongside other ordinary men in that little Flanders village of Mons. Men who would not grow old as we who are left grow old.
Regret's Mission - Inspired by the great Bernard Cornwell Sharpe by Leigh Barker / Actions & Adventure have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes