Today is the 11th day of the 11th month, Remembrance Day. It is a silent day both in the way it is presented in nature and in our remembering of the fallen. A soft day of muted skies, soft rain and deep connection with those gone before.
A few years ago, after the passing of my parents, my brother and I cleared out all their gathered memories. A handwritten message on an old piece of paper turned out to be our great- grandfather’s will written in the 1930’s and acknowledging the grandson we had never known of . His son George, my great-uncle, was killed in the First World War and no one knew then that he had left a child. It was strange to think he would have been our father’s first cousin. Our family, like most families, carry secrets, sometimes to the grave. I feel blessed to know this secret and to honour this child and the father who died so brutally far from home. I wrote the following ballad to honour his life. It is called “The Blacksmith”.
I lived in a place where the land meets the sea
A blacksmith I was, a calling for me
My family around me each day as I toiled
And then I found love and a change came to call.
My heart it was opened, but secrets were kept
My love she was fickle, but my heart it leapt
At the sound of her voice and the touch of her skin
But never was I to belong to her kin.
Then one day it happened the call came to me
“Enlist bonny laddie your country needs thee”.
And off I did travel to a shore far away
And death was the traveller I met on my way.
There was many a man who was here for to serve
We did not expect there would be no preserve
The din of the cannon, the filth and the fear
Was never explained to us ere we got here.
I wrote many letters, but few came to me
I grieved and I longed for my love o’er the sea
Would she still be waiting when I returned home
Or had she forgotten her lad o’er the foam.
The fear and the cold and the stench of the dead
Was all around everywhere – could not leave my head.
I heeded the call to get out of the trench
And a sniper he got me. It led to my death.
This story is told now by those who lived on
I left a young lass and a wee one at home
My family accepted the fate that was theirs
And continued to keep me alive in their prayers.
I know now the shame should have stayed here with me
But it grew and it wandered awake and still free
It reached my descendants and they felt the pain
They believed it was theirs and felt sorrow again.
Many years later, a niece of my heart
She heard of my story and learned how to part
Grief from my story, which coloured her own
And conquered the sorrow that had been left to roam.
And now I am free and can rest here for aye
The place I belonged still remains though I lie
In a place far away, but my heart is still here
I no longer carry the pain and the fear.
In memory of George MacLeod and also of James Angus, my great-uncle, who died in a freak accident in France, shot by one of his own.