Remembering on Memorial Day Weekend

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It begins with my mother’s recollection of a visit to Belgium on her honeymoon 50+ years ago.

To fill in their story just a bit; my father was young, British, Protestant, an only child. A rather dashing chap with an avid love of travel and geography, in Dublin for business.

 Mom was a black haired, blue-eyed Irish-Catholic. One of 7 children, and in her own words “having barely traveled out of the borough” she thought my father a fine catch with his fancy car, film star hair and English ways.

He thought she had beautiful eyes, elegant hands and, I suspect, fun brothers.

Despite major family oppositon due to the Catholic-Protestent “issue”, they married and off they went. To hear them both tell it now, which in fact I just did last night, is a tale of two very different honeymoons but that, dear readers is another post book.

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Their itinerary included 7 (or 8 ) countries, possibly a boat, or not (father rolls eyes here), untold amounts of bacon & eggs (according to him, she wouldn’t eat anything else-mother rolls eyes here) and the car robbed of everything ( clothes, camera and all the honeymoon photos) outside the Folies Bergere.

But, as I said, this post is about the day they went to Belgium.

 My father’s grandfather had been a soldier in the 1st World War. He lost his life, alongside literally thousands of others that day in Belgium, in 1915. Seemingly endless tides of brave yet unimaginably terrified young men and mere boys rising from the trenches to be caught in barbed wire and machine gun fire.  He left a widow with 7 children back home in England. Some 40 years later, his grandson now wished to pay his respects at his grave.

My mother; “Of all the places we’d planned to see, your father’s visit to his grandfather’s grave was very important to him.” 

When they arrived at their destination in Belgium they were overcome with emotion at the immense size and immaculate condition of the beautiful cemetery. On this they both agree. Meticulous care had been taken honouring the memory of all the heroic foreign souls who had lost their lives in battle on Belgian soil, even after all these years. My mother remembers searching the rows of identical headstones for what seemed like hours, to no avail, almost reaching the point of giving up. My father recalls he had a map of sorts; a grid of numbers & letters sent to the families of the deceased after the war. In any case, after quite a hike, they came upon a lone gardener to whom my father spoke a few words ‘en francais’. When the gardener heard my father’s last name, he lifted his jacket from where it was placed…directly upon my great grandfather’s headstone.

My father; “Can you imagine the emotion, upon finally arriving there amongst thousands of graves, to find it was my grandfather’s headstone being tended at that precise moment?”

~

So I’m dedicating this post to my great grandfather, and his son, my grandfather, who also served in the British Army in World War II

and of course to all the brave troops who gave their lives for our freedom.

Without them we have nothing.

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In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw *sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~

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Cemeteries of the Great War 1914-1918, Belgium, 

~

PS. Thank you to my parents for allowing me to share their tapestry of memories with you.

Have a Beautiful Memorial Day Weekend!

xoxo

SP

71 Comments

  1. So beautiful. So touching. So important to remember to express out gratitude to those who serve and have served.

  2. Without such sacrifices in the past, I wouldn’t have a wonderful sister like you !
    Well done… Love ya lots… Your 1/2 American brother… xo

  3. Beautiful story, Slim. I can not believe how beautifully kept that garveyard is in the first picture!!! Your parents were a HANDSOME couple!!! You have come from good genes, but then we all knew that. XO, Pinky

  4. This post oozes with the love you obviously have in buckets for your parents and sincere awe at the sacrifice for those who gave their lives. Thank you.

  5. What a beautiful post! Knowing and adoring both your mother and father made it that much more special. Happy Memorial day to your whole family!
    xox Daryl

  6. Your post brought back my memory of walking among the gravestones of young British soldiers from World War II who were buried in a cemetary in Thailand near the River Kwai. I was on a tour, and my fellow travelers had already climbed back on the bus. I had to pull myself away with tears in my eyes. The wording on some of those tombstones nearly broke my heart. I felt as if I should linger and carefully read each one. Their loving families were so far away, probably never able to visit sons, brothers, husbands and fathers buried on the other side of the world.

  7. It is so important to remember the sacrifices of so many for the freedom of all of us. Thank you for sharing your parents story. I hope that you do write a book someday, I will be the first to order it.

    Have a Beautiful weekend, Elizabeth

  8. Oh dear – I have to admit I shed a tear at my Grandfather’s grave, even though he died 16 years before I was born. Now I shed another – several actually, just reading your post. Mom and I thank you for thinking this small portion of our 56 years together is worth the retelling in your popular blog. Much love, Dad xoxox.

  9. What a beautiful post, Slim. It made me feel so sad and yet so proud to think that our fathers, grandfathers and those before them gave up so much so that we could have the lives we have now. I have been reading your blog for a while but this is the first time I have commented. I think you are truly gifted and I thank you for what you bring into my life

  10. What a beautiful post. The cemetery was the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Thank sharing and thank you for sharing your beautiful parents.

  11. Simply beautiful, Slim. It aptly depicts the enduring honor that we must pay to those who sacrificed for us. I honor my Uncle Joe who died 14 years before I was born. He was 23 years old, an engineering student at NYU and, from the photos, dashing and fun-loving. He was killed three months after being deployed to Europe in the Battle of the Bulge. God bless.

  12. A timely reminder for all of us and done with grace and style. I have always loved “In Flanders Field” and was happy to be able to reread it. There is no greater sacrifice for one’s country than to serve in the armed forces. Thank you for yet another beautiful post…this one clearly from the heart. God Bless. Linda from Idaho

  13. Such a great reminder. We are so very lucky. I put out my flags all weekend. Thank you for sharing and thanks to you and our soldier ancestors.
    God bless them!
    MH

  14. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us. It brings to mind our ancestors and the sacrifices they made to give us the freedoms we have today. Lovely story to help us focus of this special holiday!

  15. One of many in tears as I awake on this grey morning in Paris, France. My father was 52 when I was born, and as a 19-year-old Ohio farm boy, he joined the Marine Corps to serve in WWI. I’ve read his few written memories, I listened to his stories of serving in France, and stories of returning to France in 1927 as a tourist, deeply in love with this country where he fought and was wounded. He went on to start a reserve unit of Marines in Toledo Ohio, and was called to active duty in WWII, where he served in Hawaii. My 1/2 brother served in Korea, and many of my classmates in Viet Nam. As a retired educator, I have a former student struggling to adapt to a life without both legs, and one hand. So grateful for your thoughtful blog to honor these individuals who have served our country, and others. Thank you.

  16. Thank you for sharing such a a moving part of your families history, and thanks for making me cry in to my coffee, Love to your parents from a finally sunny London xx p.s does your Mum still like eggs and bacon 🙂

  17. Your words, as always, cause us to stop, think and ponder…and the tribute to your parents, give those of us in long-term relationships hope that rolling eyes are a normal part of making it last. Down here DownUnder they take seriously their Days of Remembrance ……. at the daybreak Anzak Day Ceremony last month, I cried at the recitation of In Flanders Fields and still have the poppies they handed out. So fun to read your brother’s and dad’s comments!

  18. Slim,
    An eloquent post full of courage and bravery, yet we continue to send of young men and women time and again to War which as my 86 year Mother says ” War is not the answer” – I have been to Normandy and wept with my Mother-in-law at the thought of young men with wet feet, depart their boats on the shores not knowing that they would be laid to rest there. As a Mother of a son who has chosen to be an ROTC – I am proud of all those who serve our country, then and now. I still pray for peace and for those wounded and living with challenges daily – all for our sake. We owe them much.
    pve

  19. Thank you and also to all of those that left comments. I forget to be grateful to all of the brave souls who fought for us to be blessed to live in this amazing world.
    Mary

  20. Hi Slim, that was just beautiful. It made me cry and think of the sacrifices my father made. He dropped out of his second year at William & Mary, to enlist as an officer in WWll. He fought the Germans and had bullet wounds the size of a tennis ball in his leg. After the war he went on to law school and later married my mother. He had two wounds the size of tennis balls on his leg. He crawled in a fox hole and remained for three days after being shot. When he crawled out, he wasn’t sure if it was a German or an Englishman coming down the road, but if he had stayed in the hole he would have died. Fortunately it was an Englishman. At his funeral, when I was eight, they handed my twin brother his flag. His purple heart remains with my mother’s jewelry. Your post has allowed me look at this weekend with a grateful, and completely awestruck appreciation, for all of our families unbelievable sacrifices. What a serendipitous moment that must have been for your parents when the Gardner removed his coat. I was the first in my family to marry a Catholic, your parents were trail blazers in their day…awesome! Thank you so much for sharing Slim.

  21. well that brought a few tears to my eyes, thank you for such a sweet post, and thank you America for being our neighbours and allies, very fortunate for us Canadians!

    p.s your parents sound a lot like mine:)

  22. So poignant and moving. Thanks for the reminder that as much as all love our BBQ’s and outings on this holiday..THIS is what it’s really all about. My hat goes off to all of those who make this tremendous and noble sacrifice that these men and women do in order for all of us to enjoy our liberties and freedoms. There is no more noble job than this, and they deserve recognition every single day for the job that they do. I am truly in awe of them…….thank you Slim!

  23. Thanks Slim. A beautiful tribute. Lucky you, to have such wonderful parents, and they, a wonderful daughter.

    B J

  24. Simply brilliant! And, having the gardener lift his jacket on your father’s grandfather’s very headstone … so remarkable and moving! Of course, now I am wanting to hear more about the riveting honeymoon story. Thank you for your sharing, and thank you for your amazing blog – your posts are utterly delightful.

  25. Lovely and poignant post. An Chinese proverb says “If you write it down, you live it twice”…that will be my hope. Thank you for your post and the reminder of this week ends meaning for our world.Lou

  26. Slim, thank you for sharing, my parents were the same, my father English Protestant and my mother Irish Catholic and all of her brothers weren’t too happy about it, so my father converted. He fought in WW II, so thanks for this beautiful post and how well taken care of the cemetery is there really inspiring, thanks

  27. My mother (90 years young) recites pages of poetry from memory and “Flanders” is one of her favorites…we are visiting her and she has hundreds of poppy’s blooming right now. Memorial Day, 2013. franki

  28. What a beautiful tribute, Slim. Thank you for reminding us what this holiday is really all about and to whom we owe unending gratitude.
    You look so much like your mum, by the way. Your parents sound adorable.

  29. Slim,
    Loved the story about your cute parents. Even more love the sentiment of this. Thanks for reminding us all what it is about this day. What a beautiful cemetery, so lovingly cared for. Reminds me of going to Normandy. I can never forget all the generations before us who gave so very much. It really stays with you when you go to Normandy. I never forget all the sacrifices made.. I am truly grateful.

  30. I think there’s another writer in the family. Your post was perfect for this special day, and your dad’s comment was so heartfelt and sweet.

  31. Such a beautiful post for Memorial Day. Thank you for sharing your parents’ story with us, so touching.

  32. What a beautiful tribute! My 90 year father was at D-Day. Every once in a while he will share a brief memory.
    Love to you!
    Julia

  33. Your Mum and Dad must be very proud to have such a wonderful, dutiful daughter, who has a gift of pen and prose. God Bless you, God Bless those who are touched by you and those who have yet to discover your words, and God Bless us all of the men and women who died for our freedom to live life as God meant it to be…………..you look like your Mum!

  34. Raised in Canada, I memorized “In Flander’s Fields” as a student. Still today the poignant words touch my heart. Now living in the US, I wear a poppy on my lapel every November 11 to honor those who fought and died for freedom. Thanks for the tribute.

Would love to hear from you!