CONTENT WARNING: Domestic violence, murder, victim blaming.
The woman above is Emily Mather (1865 - 1891), whose grave I visited in the Melbourne General Cemetery yesterday. Mather, who was buried under her maiden name, was brutally murdered by her husband in 1891. Unknown to Emily, she had married serial killer, and her husband had previously murdered his first wife and their four children in England before fleeing to Australia; some believe he may be serial killer Jack the Ripper, although most historians doubt this. He was hanged in 1892 for the murder of Mather.
Mather was initially buried in an unmarked 'pauper's grave', until the efforts of family friend Edward Thunderbolt saw her exhumed and reburied in the Melbourne General Cemetery. The monument was erected by public subscription, with the inscription chosen by Thunderbolt, as Mather's parents were still in England. Aside from the standard inscription noting her to be a beloved daughter whose life had been taken too soon, Thunderbolt also thought it appropriate to place a piece of 'advice' on her gravestone, which proves that victim blaming is no new thing, even from so-called friends.
It reads as follows:
"To those who hereafter come reflecting
Upon this text of her sad ending
To warn her sex of their intending
For marrying in haste, is depending
On such a fate, too late for amending."
In modern terms, this translates to Thunderbolt saying that Mather married too quickly and if she had taken her time she might have made a different choice that wouldn't have led to her murder. He is saying it is her own fault her husband bashed her and slit her throat, and he has taken it upon himself to warn other young woman that they too are likely to be maimed or murdered by their husbands if they 'marry in haste', and not because, you know, their husbands chose to act violently against them.
You can write this off as a sickening example of the times if you want, but victim blaming is still alive and well today. Survivors of sexual assault and harassment are still asked 'What were you wearing?', and the actions and attitudes of murdered wives are regularly scrutinized to see if the killer husband was 'pushed too far'. Individuals coming forward with allegations of abuse are routinely disbelieved and ridiculed, while powerful people and institutions collude to protect their own.
It might not be written on graves anymore, but it is still deeply embedded in our culture, our minds, our psyche, and even our legal system. And while it remains so entrenched, while we continue to blame the victims and find excuses for the perpetrators, women like Emily Mather will never rest in peace.
I love cemetaries; they are peaceful places full of incredible stories and today I got a chance to visit the Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton, final resting place of many famous historical figures from Melbourne and wider Victoria, including Sir Redmond Barry, Peter Lalor, Sir Charles Hotham and, of course, Burke and Wills. The two men are not only buried there but also have a large memorial, which I saw today. The memorial reads: "Comrades in a Great Achievement, Companions in Death and Associates in Renown". These two men, who not only spent their own lives but cost five other men theirs, are a classic example of white-washed, glossed-over, rose-tinted history.
For those unfamiliar, Burke and Wills were a pair of so-called explorers who set out to cross the continent, going from Royal Park, Melbourne to Flinders River, North Queensland in 1860. Of the exploration team, only one man - John King - actually crossed the continent and survived to make it back to Melbourne.
Most publications about the pair describe the expedition as 'ill-fated', but the historical reality is far less peachy: Burke and Wills were not 'ill-fated', but ill-equipped, unprepared, inexperienced, arrogant, ignorant and had an inflated sense of their own self-importance. They died, and took five others with them, due to sheer stupidity, not bad luck or circumstance.
So please remember, when you see the memorials, and the statues, and the street names, they have been raised to a pair of STUPID MEN. History is full of them, and we seem to have a real hard time releasing the fiction and facing the facts.
Want to know more?
This article on Wikipedia is a good place to start: Burke and Wills Expedition. While Wikipedia has a reputation for factual inaccuracy, this article is one of the better ones and will give you a good grounding.
The National Museum of Australian has an online collection of resources decided to Burke and Wills, which you can find here.
The State Library of Victoria has a wealth of online and physical material regarding the Burke and Wills expedition, including journal articles, books, pictures, manuscripts and documents. Click here to search.
A really great book on the subject, which I can personally recommend is 'Burke and Wills, The Triumph and Tragedy of Australia's Most Famous Explorers' by Peter Fitzsimons. You can find this online or in any good book retailer.
Finally, you can visit the graves of these men yourself, and see the memorial, at the Melbourne General Cemetery in Parkville, Victoria. Just across the road from the cemetery is another monument, marking the place in Royal Park where the exhibition set off from.
Note before I begin: I know I missed a week - things slipped for me a little recently and I'm climbing back up. I decided rather than trying to go backwards, that I will just keep moving forwards.
Were all goals achieved this week?
No; I seem to be having a run of bad weeks. My Nana got sick very suddenly last week and is only now in recovery, so there was a lot of fumbling around and worrying last week while I came to grips with it all. Fortunately she is on the mend now and looks set to make a full recovery, but after an emotional roller-coaster of a week I'm hoping that this week is a little more smooth for me mentally.
Was progress made on "The Big Six"?
How do I feel about this week?
Again, I don't feel great about my progress last week. I feel as if I've slipped off the wagon. Hilal tells me that I haven't fallen off, that it's just a little side step, but I really feel like the last three weeks have been hard. I'm hoping to move forward this week and have more ticks than crosses when I do my review.
This Week's Plan
If you're wondering why there are question marks (?) beside lyra, pole and stretch tech, it is because of the pulled muscle in my groin. I had a physio poke around at it (ouch!) and also my PT (who is an osteo) and both have recommended light movements and gentle stretching to avoid scar tissue. I'm actually in terrific pain at the moment, so it's up in the air whether I will make it to Divas tonight, as I can't lift my leg forwards at all, and depending on how it is on Saturday will depend on whether I can dance then too. If I can't go to Divas, I'm going to do some gentle stretches to keep it moving and help prevent scar tissue from forming.
I had a stretch coach and contortion specialist help me stretch it out this morning and it felt heavenly, but unfortunately for me, when I got home I slipped over and my whole left leg almost came out from under me and I managed to pull it again. I'm going to make another appointment with my physio if it doesn't get better/gets worse.
Mini goal for this week: This week is all about 5.00am! My day goes better when I get up at 5.00, I have more energy, more stamina, a clearer head and I eat less sugary junk. I know this, but sometimes my mind tricks me into thinking that I should sleep more and, every time I give in, I have one of those 'blah' days. I want to be really consistent with this and start creating a long -term habit.
Were all goals achieved this week?
No, as you can see, this week was rough. There was an incident in my personal life on Friday which knocked me around emotionally over the weekend and wasn't resolved until Tuesday.
As much as planning ahead and setting goals is important, it is also important to acknowledge that unexpected events can occur and they can throw you out. I slipped off the wagon last week, but I have done a lot of reflection and soul searching since then and I was back on as of Tuesday. I ran out of time to post my weekly review on Wednesday, but I did it all the same.
Was progress made on 'The Big Six'?
How do I feel about this week?
Not great, to be honest, but sometimes shit happens. This is why I love my weekly review, because I can actually look back and go 'OK, this happened, this happened, and this happened, and it was all shit, but look at all this good stuff that happened too!' I'm feeling positive about next week, stay tuned!
Next Week's Planner
Mini Goal for next week: Get back on track. After everything that happened to me over the last week, my little goal for this week is to get back on track and see more ticks than crosses when I come to my review again next Wednesday.
Were all goals achieved this week?
No, but I want to go into a little more depth about this no.
My first slip up on Friday, not doing any active recovery (e.g. yoga, a bike ride, a gentle walk, etc.) meant that, for the first time since the year began, I had a day with no activity. At first I wasn't concerned, thinking that a full 'day off' every now and then never did anyone any harm.
But, man, did it knock me around on Saturday!
I set my alarm from 5.00am, but when it went off, instead of bouncing out of bed full of energy like usual in the morning, I felt flat and lethargic, stiff and heavy, so do you know what I did? I rolled right over and went back to sleep! I got up at half six and got in my meditation before I headed off to the gym, but when I checked my activity tracker on Saturday night and noticed that Friday was my first 'no activity' day, I couldn't help but wonder if that had affected both my sleep and my energy levels.
I have been very active since the year began, doing something every day, and I have been noticing some fantastic improvements to my quality of life, such as better sleep, more energy and a longer attention span, so it would seem logical to make the connection between a day where I didn't consciously move my body and feeling flat and out of sorts the day after.
And my reason for not moving on Friday? I didn't plan my day well and I ran out of time. On Friday evening my family and I watch a legal drama together, but I didn't make the best choices in regards to my time after work on Friday and, instead of using the time before our TV show to do some yoga or other gentle movement to aid active recovery, I played around on my computer. Then, after dinner, we all sat down to watch our once a week TV and, by the time it finished, it was nine thirty and I was ready for bed. Not a spectacular use of my Friday, because, even though I didn't have time after the show, I did have time before and I chose not to use it wisely; but it's a good lesson for moving forward.
The other day where there is a cross, Tuesday, was a conscious decision I made to not set my alarm. I had a migraine on Monday and (stupidly) tried to force myself to do a session at Crunch. I did do some training, but it was very light and my trainer and I spent most of the session chatting about my food choices instead, but by the time my dad picked me up I was a sick, sick little cookie. I ended up going home, physically ill, and straight to bed just after eight. Given how sick I had been on Monday night, I made the decision not to set my alarm yesterday morning, as I felt my body was probably trying to tell me something and what I needed most now was rest. I woke up just before my 'work alarm' at 6.25am feeling fresh, clear-headed and pain-free.
Those of you who follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram would have picked up that I didn't meditate until late yesterday, and that was why. I got up late before I hadn't been well on Monday and I learned another valuable lesson about listening to my body.
Was progress made on 'The Big Six'?
How do I feel about this week?
Bit of an up and down week, but that is why I love having my trackers and my weekly planner so much. It means that, instead of trying to remember what I've done or judging the week by how I feel on the last day, I can actually look back and see how I went. It really helps to keep things in perspective and, by using my activity, mood and meditation trackers, I can start to pick up patterns and see if there's particular things I do that seem to provoke a certain response or feeling, or a good activity to do on days when I'm not feeling 100% emotionally. It's all about seeing what works, and my trackers help me do that.
Next Week's Planner
Mini Goal for next week: I want to be able to say I got up at 5.00am every day next week, as I haven't yet had a week where I've been able to do this. Some of my reasons have been valid, but others... not so much. This next week I want ticks by the 'Get up at 5.00am' line every single day.
Were all goals achieved this week?
No, I wasn't able to get up at 5.00am on Sunday; I woke up at 10.00am instead. However, I don't see this as a problem because a) it's only one day our of seven, and b) I was babysitting on Saturday night and ended up being awake for almost twenty hours straight. I didn't get home until 1.30am Sunday morning, so I knew it wasn't going to be practical for me to get up at 5.00am. However, this is the only thing I didn't manage to do this week, so I'm really happy with that.
Was progress made on 'The Big Six'?
How do you feel about this week?
I'm really pleased with my progress this week; of course, it's only a week into the new year, and so my motivation is still high. I'm looking forward to seeing how having the planner helps as I move through the year, and if it continues to motivate and keep my accountable.
Next Week's Planner
Welcome to the New Year, and the start of another decade.
Congratulations on making it this far!
That is not sarcasm, by the way, I'm sure there were time during 2019 when you wanted to give up (I know I did!) but you pushed through and made it to 2020. I'm proud of you!
And, if you're like most of the population, you've already resolved to turn over a new leaf, ditch some bad habits and are already full-steam ahead on the 'New Year, New Me' train that everyone wants to catch.
Chances are, you've caught this train before...
Every year, in fact.
And I bet, for many of you, it's broken down somewhere around the February stop.
That's the problem with the myth of 'New Year's Resolutions': they're not designed to stick. They're a function of a 'get results quick!' society and the industries that benefit from that. It's a vicious cycle that many of us jump onto every single year: set a resolution, go well for a couple of weeks, slip off, struggle to get back on, fail, flog ourselves, then do it all over again the next time the calendar rolls around to Jan 1.
I get it.
I've been there before too.
And something I learned from being there was the a New Year's resolution is worthless, but if you take that 'resolution' and turn it into a 'goal' and plan concrete, action steps towards it, then it becomes something achievable.
For the last five years, I have been setting 'New Year's Goals' and have been achieving them at a success rate about about 75 - 80%. Much of this has come from my time training at Evolving Physiques. Every year, they offer a start of year goal setting session for their members, and I was lucky enough to have mine on Jan 1, which saw some really positive progress and concrete steps planned.
I have six major goals for 2020, and they are as follows:
For each of these goals I have outlined between 3 - 4 action steps to be taken that will help me meet these goals, and also identified what stands in my way of achieving them. The two biggest barriers to me achieving these goals are a lack of accountability and lack of planning, so it was great to sit down with someone and work out how I could go around this.
As far as accountability goes, I am using my blog, my Instagram and my Facebook page as accountability tools; each day I'm posting a photo of my morning meditation, and sharing my progress on my splits at least weekly. I will also be posting a 'Weekly Review' here. Whether or not anyone reads it, I don't much care, but putting something down in writing always makes it feel more tangible. Hilal has also jumped on board as something of an accountability partner, and she likes to check in and see how my progress is going and if I'm moving in the right direction. Now, with my motivation high, I haven't had any trouble, but as the year goes on, knowing there is someone watching will make it easier to stay on track, even when it gets hard.
For planning, I have started creating a seven-day planner and updating it weekly on Wednesday. I have an RDO each Wednesday, so it made sense to start my week then, when I have time to sit down and review my progress and plan ahead. It's just a list of the major events I have upcoming for the week, but with each tick I feel a little surge of pride: I did it! It's also a way of being accountable to myself, and knowing ahead what I'm doing each week takes away from of the mental load.
The final thing I have done for myself is create three trackers: Mood, Activity and Meditation. This is another form of accountability for myself, as I find that using apps to be accountable makes it very easy to cheat, but this way I have the manually record not only if I did something, but what type of 'something' I did. I'm also of the opinion that these are going to help my pick up patterns in how my mood affects my activity and vice versa, and if different types of meditation tend to give me a better or worse day. I've also started tracking my spending lately, so these will also give me a guide of how I'm feeling on days when I look back and realise I've spent big.
So, 2020 is already off to a great start for me, and I'd encourage you to get the fuck off that 'New Year's Resolution' Train and jump on the 'Goals With Concrete Steps' Train, which is a far superior engine than the former. Sit down with someone you know and trust and thrash out some goals, be realistic, make it personal, and find a way to be accountable. If you start off right, you can only learn more as you grow.
CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of voluntary euthanasia.
On 29 November 2017, the state of Victoria - where I live in the capital of Melbourne - became the first Australian state to pass Voluntary Assisted Dying laws, which legalised euthanasia and made it accessible to those suffering terminal illness and facing a slow, painful death.
It was not without its controversies and there are still arguments that it goes too far or doesn't go far enough. In broad strokes, the bill allows an adult who is over 18, of sound mind, suffering from a terminal illness, with a life expectancy of less than six months, to access assisted dying. There are some 68 safeguards in place and the application must be approved by two doctors, one of who must be independent of the patient, for a permit to be given.
As you can imagine, the debate got heated, with both sides opening fire on the other. These types of laws always inflame passions and strong opinions hold sway. Morals, religion, personal experience, opinion and many other factors were used to justify arguments and shoot down the other, but the bill eventually passed and became law in Victoria.
Premier Daniel Andrews (right), Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy (centre) and Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula (left) speak on the steps of the Victorian Parliament House after the passage of assisted dying laws. The bill passed with 47 votes to 37 in the lower house, and by a slimmer margin of 22 to 18 in the upper house. Photo: ABC News.
For my part, I was never sure where I sat on the issue of assisted dying. It seemed complex and frightening, yet I was also acutely aware that my ability to distance myself fro it was due to a lucky ignorance. I myself have never faced a terminal illness and never had someone I love go through one either; my thoughts on the matter were informed by theories, articles and listening to debates and arguments from both sides, but I never really had a strong opinion either way.
So many 'what ifs' swirled around in my mind, but I was not unhappy that the law passed. Whether or not it was a victory yet I wasn't sure, but the people who had been campaigning for it proclaimed it to be a step in the right direction, although those who had been against it from the start declared November 29 to be a terrible day, not just for Victoria but also for Australia.
My views continued to be mixed until I read an article this morning the The Age about a doctor who has assisted two dozen Victorians apply for voluntary assisted dying permits. All of them, he said, have been bed-ridden and racked with pain, and want an opportunity for a peaceful, dignified end.
I found the article to be deeply moving and I was very touched by the story within. However, what finally cemented my feelings and left me a firm proponent of Victoria's assisted dying laws was a letter published at the end of the article. It was written to the doctor by the patient who was the focus of the story.
"I struggled to think of a way to say thank you for what you have done for me. I chose to write it down so that you can never forget. Thank you for your bravery in administering the medication for me today so that I can finally be at peace.
"Thank you for making me a priority in your schedule when I am sure you have other patients to attend and a family of your own. Thank you for being so kind to my family, putting their minds at rest and answering their questions. Thank you for spending many years of your life studying and working hard in order that you can help people like me. I am pleased and honoured to have known you for what feels like a fleeting moment. I am so proud of the job that you have done and I am eternally thankful.
"Best wishes for your future mate,
The passage of Victoria's assisted dying legislation meant that this man could die at home, surrounded by his loved ones, in peace and comfort, rather than in a hospital or palliative care, hooked up to machines and in excruciating pain. I think, if I had to go, and I couldn't drift off quietly in my sleep, that is what I would want too: a soft, peaceful death.
"It was a kindness and a mercy"
After years of uncertainty and indecision on a topic which truly ignites passions, I now firmly believe that the state of Victoria and countries of the world who have legalised assisted dying, have done the right thing. It is not a question or morals, religion or opinion, it is a question of dignity. People facing their morality through terminal illness face so much that is out of their control, giving them the final say in how they wish to depart this life can only be the right thing to do.
CONTENT WARNING: RELIGIOUS THEMES
When discussing my faith with like minded individuals, or having a robust discussion with those who are curious and want to philosophise, there is one statement I hear quite often that just doesn't gel with me and my experience of faith.
Surrender to God.
I have never liked that phrase, that idea, that point of scripture. Why should I have to 'surrender'? Am I at war with God? Am I to be His prisoner? A slave?
Of course not! It's a ridiculous concept, as far as I'm concerned.
In the same line, I've never been comfortable with the idea that God has my life all mapped out for me; that He's got some kind of 'perfect plan... a blueprint especially designed for' me. I believe that He is with me as I move through my life, I certainly don't believe He knows exactly what I'm doing or where I'm going. Each moment is a choice that influences the next moment, every small decision we make compounds to form our future. God is beside me when I make my choices, that I believe, but He is not directing each one of them. They are my choices, influenced by a myriad of factors, of which God is only one.
And that brings me to my second issue regarding faith as a 'surrender'. One of the most common phrases attributed to Jesus is that His followers may 'lay their troubles at the foot of the cross'. This is often interpreted as an invitation to pray and ask God and Christ to help us in our times of trouble; prayer can be very comforting for a believer in times of need or struggle, but I have always seen it as simply that: a comfort. I don't believe, for an instant, that God is not with me during my times of trouble, or that He is not willing to help me find a solution, but that is the point: I have to find the solution. God puts mountains in my path, obstacles for me to overcome, to try me and allow me to test my strength and broaden my experience and knowledge. I can pray my little heart out all I like for Him to remove that obstacle, but nothing's going to happen unless I take some action. He might guide me, give me suggestions, or help me find a way around, over or through, but I can put all the troubles I want at the foot of the cross, but God isn't about to make them vanish. That's up to me; to learn what I need to learn from the mountain and then move forward.
Also, that little phrase about putting troubles at the foot of the cross, it's often attributed to Jesus but He never says it directly in the gospels. Commentators such as St. Paul and the Disciples make this claim on behalf of Jesus, and they may have felt that within their beliefs (faith is a personal thing, after all), but it doesn't work for me. If God didn't want me to have any troubles, He wouldn't put the obstacles in my road in the first place, so when I meet them there's no point trying to give them back to Him. If I have troubles, then I can pray and seek comfort (which I do) but I have to take action to solve the problem, rather than sit around and wait for God to solve it.
Jesus said it himself! You will have trouble! It doesn't matter if you believe or not, it doesn't matter where you're from, what you do, who you are or anything else. There are no exceptions: you will have trouble! In the second part of the scripture He speaks of overcoming the world, which I interpret as giving us the tools to overcome our own trouble. From a religious perspective, God may have overcome the troubles of the world, but that doesn't mean they're not there anymore, it just means that we have the tools to see past them, to move ahead and to find our feet again.
So, if I don't see faith as a surrender, what is it to me?
To me, faith is an invitation. Some would agree and say that, yes, God invites us all to His table, but I interpret this differently. I have the free will to choose who I sit with, to choose who I want in my life, and so my faith comes from my belief that God has accepted my invitation to be a part of my life. He's always there, but He's not interventionist. I have had my spiritual experiences, moments where I've felt His presence very strongly, but these are my own experiences which inform my faith, others may see it differently. They may feel a very strong call to a surrender, and that's OK. Your faith is your faith, and my faith is my faith, but don't ask me if I've 'surrendered' to God, because the answer is an emphatic HELL NO! I've given Him an invitation into my life, and we're walking down this path together.
This story was inspired by true events.
07 July 1916
The Somme, France
By the time Crymble got to the medics, he knew the man across his shoulders was dead. There was a certain weight to a dead man, a horrible, slack heaviness as every muscle in the body failed and went limp. Crymble had actually staggered as the tension had left the man he was carrying and the terrible dead weight had set in.
“Wait!” snarled a medic, as Crymble attempted to bring the man into the filthy tent serving as the medical bay. “He’s already long gone, boy!”
Annoyed, his shoulders cramping and his mind ill at ease, Crymble attempted to enter again, but was this time physically forced back.
“I said wait!” the medic snarled, looking like a man possessed. “We’ve got no time for dead ones. Wait!”
So Crymble deposited the soldier on the ground and sat beside him. He drew his knees up to his chest and waited; it was a strange thing, but you spent more time waiting in this God forsaken place than doing anything else. He heard the far away whistle of a shell falling on the stretch of land between their trenches and the Germans and flinched as the sound of the impact. He saw the eyes of the soldier beside him were open; this bothered him for no apparent reason and he closed them.
A more romantic man might have said he now looked as if he could be sleeping, but Crymble didn’t think so. If nothing else, he’d never seen a man sleep with his legs ripped open, all but hanging off.
Back in the raging war on no man’s land, another shell whistled lethally through the air.
It was some hours later, during a lull as both sides collected their dead and tended as best they could to their wounded, that someone found time to come over to Crymble and his lifeless companion. You couldn’t really blame them, of course; a dead man was a low priority next to a living one who might make it to a clearing station, but it annoyed Crymble nonetheless.
The medic looked Crymble over with a tired expression. It was a different man to the one who had snapped at him earlier, but it didn’t really matter. If you looked too long at any man out here - English, Australian, Irish, Canadian, German, Indian - you started forgetting they were different anyway. In this place, every man had something terrible in common.
“Are you hurt, soldier?” the medic asked and Crymble shook his head.
The medic crouched down next to the lifeless soldier Crymble had brought with him from the front lines. “Your friend?”
“My sergeant,” the man corrected.
Crymble nodded; the wounds were self-explanatory.
“What’s his name?”
“Byers,” Crymble replied. “Here.” He pulled the man’s tags off without thinking and handed them to the medic; the man shook his head and gestured for him to keep them.
“I’ll take the details, but those’ll go back to his wife - assuming he’s got one.”
Crymble nodded again. “He’s got one,” he told the medic. “He’s got a son, at least, so there’s probably a wife; heard him talking about it the other day.”
“Noted,” she the medic. “If you can bring him in here, I’ll get everything written down.”
Crymble didn’t complain as he hoisted Byers up onto his shoulders again and brought him into the tent. It was not a pleasant place to be - the smell alone, a mixture of piss, shit, blood and sweat, was enough to make him feel ill, but the grisly injuries and the sound of sobbing men was worse - and he was glad he didn’t have to stay long. A rather strained and harassed looking clerk took the details, looking at the dog tags Crymble had as he did so.
“Company Sergeant Major J. A. Byers; Royal Irish Rifles; killed in action seven July 1916. You know him well?”
Crymble shook his head. “He yelled it at me to keep my uniform straight; that’s about as close as we got.”
“He have any family you know of?”
Thinking that his previous answer should have told the idiot standing in front of him that he wouldn’t know the personal details of the man’s life, he answered rather snappishly.
“Overheard him talking about a son a few days ago, that’s all I know.”
“Thank you,” the clerk replied. “I’ll take those.”
He stretched out his hand for the dog tags and Crymble handed them over without hesitation. The clerk slipped them into a rather battered looking envelope and scribbled hastily on the front: BYERS, J. A. Personal Effects.
“You’ll bury him?” Crymble asked and the clerk nodded.
“Not personally, lad,” he told him, “but someone will. You’ve done well.”
Crymble nodded and turned his back on the horrible place. He passed J. A. Byers’s body on the way out, but did not pause. Given the many horrible ways to die in this place, the way the sergeant had gone hadn’t been bad: one minute he was there, the next minute his legs had been a puddle of blood. He hadn’t even regained consciousness inbetween being hit and dying as Crymble carried him away from the front lines.
He looked out over the field as he headed back to the trench. Maybe there was a bullet out there with his name on it, or a shell stamped with his face; perhaps it would be mustard gas or infected burns from a flame thrower; it might be trench foot or gangrene or fucking food poisoning from bad rations. Death crouched before him like a snarling animal, just waiting to pounce, but Crymble couldn’t bring himself to care much. What was the point? It would come when it came, and there’d be plenty to die with him; of that, he could be certain. One thing every man could be assured of: out here, no one died alone.
A team of stretcher bearers brought Crymble’s body off the field the next day. Bullet clean to the head; he was still recognisable, however, his regiment badge and identity tags intact. The overworked clerk made note of his death, stuffed his few personal effects into an envelope to be sent to his wife, then handed the remains over to the men to deal with.
In the rough little cemetery they’d built, well back from the fighting, they lay Crymble in a roughly dug hole, two along from J. A. Byers. The chaplain said a few words, they covered him in the same thick muck he’d died in, and placed a roughly hewn cross at his head. They’d done it with all the men here: if they knew the name, they put it there, if they didn’t, they marked the site all the same. Maybe when the war was over - if it ever ended - they’d do something a bit nicer; give the men a proper resting place, for now, however, mud and hastily carved crosses would do for them all. There was little time for sentiment out here.
18 June 1932
The Somme, France
“This the spot?”
It was a sticky, humid kind day, with barely a breath of wind to rustle the grass or the leaves of the trees. The kind of day that lent itself to sitting idly in the shade, perhaps sipping a lemonade, and contemplating how good it was to be alive.
But for the large team of men up on the hill, such idyllic thoughts were far from their minds. They had an unpleasant task ahead of them, one that needed to be done before the new memorial was opened in just under two months.
The surveyor nodded, looking rather grim. “This is it - there’s definitely men here.”
The group had the unenviable responsibility to exhume - with as much dignity as possible - the bodies of the men buried in what had been a rough, wartime cemetery in 1916. British and French authorities had stumbled onto the place almost by accident, after uncovering the records of a clerk killed just before the end of the war, in which had been recorded the location of the cemetery.
Normally, of course, they would have let the bodies be, but, with the new memorial shortly due to open and throngs of people no doubt planning to attend, there was some concern in official circles that these graves might be inadvertently trampled. They hadn't yet been discovered when the memorial had been planned and built, and were in an awkward position given the angle of the towering structure that would shortly dominate the skyline. The decision had been made to move the men to the new cemetery that had been placed at the foot of the memorial. Given that each man had most likely fallen during the Battle of the Somme, it was fitting they be buried in the shadow of the memorial that now bore their names.
The exhumation took more of the day. The graves - their markings long gone, the wooden crosses destroyed by war, time and the elements - were carefully dug up, the bones of the men within them shifted into the new, freshly dug resting places on the hill near Thiepval. Already, some of the men there had headstones made of bright white, French limestone, and so would these men too, but there’s would be without names.
"Why'd the clerk record the cemetery, but not the men in it?" one of the men asked as he dug and his colleague frowned.
“He might have done, for all we know,” he said. “But the poor man was trying to take records in the midst of the war and, given he died before the end of it, it's not surprising things are missing or incomplete."
The other man sighed, looking out at the graves still to be exhumed. “Poor bastards.”
It was some weeks before the headstones were placed, only a few days before the memorial was officially opened in August. Carved neatly in the same way all the others had been, perfect, symmetrical, their simplicity belying the true horror of the epitaph carved upon them.
HERE LIES A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR
Known Unto God
J. A Byers slept beside Crymble, the soldier who had carried him off the field, while Captains lay beside Privates they had never met in life; their names adorned soaring monuments and perhaps God knew, even if the men didn’t, that there were lessons yet to be learned.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.