Dust to Dust
In August I went to Great Tew in Oxfordshire; it is a beautiful village, nestling in estate countryside which can’t have changed much in a hundred years. The surroundings are breathtakingly beautiful and redolent of the peace of old England. I loved it there. The estate farms, mechanised now, must once have employed hundreds of men from the villages all round. I got to think of those workers from former times, and how, in the end, war is not about ideals or countries, but about your home and friends. I could understand why you would want to fight for this, and felt something of how awful it must have been to lose it – through death or post war realities.
Great Tew is 6 miles from Chipping Norton, where David Cameron is planning the celebrations for the anniversary of the start of the Great war.
Squire told me I should fight
To save these fields
And make my ma and sister proud;
So I took myself along the lane,
To look at land and sky and
Escape the shouting village crowd.
That fence I mended on an August day,
That slope I harrowed in a wicked wind,
That wheat I harvested before the rain.
That hill I climbed with Jenny late one night,
That path I flattened for old Thwaites’s cart,
But now I’ll leave and give the King my name.
The Missus came down from the Hall
After service on the Sunday morn,
To tell my dad how ‘proud she was of John’.
“With his friends he’ll make the village famous,
As he fights the Hun for freedom”,
Monday came, I went into the town,
To take the shilling, and to do my bit,
I kept my smile and joined the soldiers’ queue;
The Sergeant asked me where it was I lived,
And when I told him, nudged the Corporal,
And laughed: “We’re all so proud of Tew.”
My papers came, Pa said “The die is cast”.
And on the day, I woke before the dawn,
Went down the lane to take a final walk.
Came back quite lost in memories,
But Ma must clean my boots –
Twelve months it is since last
I walked the lanes and smelled the hedgerows
That marked my home around GreatTew;
I thought I knew the country ways
But fields in Flanders and the clay they spewed
Told me different stories to the ones I knew
The flowers and the chalk I know,
The jokes of friendship, sometimes passing cruel;
But shells that wail like ghosts are new,
And the blinded calling out for sight are shrill,
So many words for ‘mother’ and for ‘dad’,
So many friends I made, but now so few.
I think of Squire, those grand words that he said,
And hope I’ll save those fields by suffering here,
Though I’ll take a Blighty if I must.
I miss Great Tew, and long to walk those lanes,
To smile at Pa, laugh in the Falkland Arms, and tell of pals,
While Ma cleans boots, and shines away their dust.