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Monday, 4 August 2014

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row

The summer of 1914 was a time of great excitement for my part of the world; there was to be a royal visit to the industrial town of Heanor. On 25th June, people from Heanor and surrounding towns and villages lined the streets to see King George V and Queen Mary. Industry was closed to let the workers enjoy the occasion and flags and banners were waved. Just three days later, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. This would begin a chain of events that would lead to a conflict of unprecedented scale.
For five weeks there were rumours about Britain's potential involvement and the scenes from the August Bank Holiday weekend became a poignant last glimpse of a country that would soon be changed forever. On 4th August at 11pm, Britain officially declared war on Germany and less than three weeks later the first fighting took place at the Battle of Mons.
There was not a place in the country that did not have men going off to war. Those who did not return are listed on memorials in their home towns. With so much time passing, those men barely remain in living memory and there was a danger of them becoming little more than letters on stone. With the centenary of the war now being commemorated, we have a  real opportunity to bring them back to life and to remember them properly.
On the war memorial in my home village of Codnor, there are the names of two of my relatives. Arthur Hubball was my Grandma's uncle. He had already been wounded once before returning to the front. He had survived the Battle of the Somme which took place through most of 1916. He also made it through the terribly cold winter of 1916-17. On 9th February 1917, he was reported missing. It would be eight months before he was officially declared dead. He was the first man from the small village of Stoneyford to die. The second was a son of one of Arthur's cousins, Arthur Darrington. Having joined up in June 1918, teenager Arthur arrived in France in September. Just a month later he was mortally wounded and died in a military hospital.
Arthur Darrington is buried in Bellicourt British Cemetery but Arthur Hubball has no known grave. He is commemorated on the colossal Monument to the Missing at Thiepval. It made me wonder, what would their families do, when there can be no funeral, no headstone to visit? I imagined a woman in silent grief taking up a scrap of fabric and oddments of thread. She takes up her needle and embroiders the name of her loved one, with poppies for remembrance.
I took up my own needle and created a small piece inspired by John McCrae's famous poem In Flanders Fields. Before white headstones were installed, the resting place of each soldier was marked with a wooden cross. Red poppies with their fragile petals sprang up across the churned up earth and became a symbol of remembrance, as well as the hope for peace. Arthur Hubball and Arthur Darrington, men of Codnor, you are not forgotten.

If you would like to learn more about my two relatives and the men from Codnor who died during the Great War, you can do so here.

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