A Soldier's Story Is as Much about Love as It Is about the Cruelties of War ; A Man Who Has Seen the Worst of War Believes It Could Only Be Embarked upon as `the Last, the Last, Last Resort'
Keane, Fergal, The Independent (London, England)
The gloom comes in at the end of October and sits like a coastal fog until spring. It is a nagging melancholy for which good company and laughter are the best antidotes. These and the promise of work in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed and Christmas carols are sung on the beach. Fortunately the nature of my work ensures reasonably regular, if brief, periods of escape to the south. I don't think I suffer from so-called "Seasonally Adjusted Depression".
No, nothing as serious as that. Perhaps it is nothing more than the reasonable response of the sane mind to the reality of a northern European winter. Or perhaps more accurately, the response of the sane mind to the desolate England of the M25. Twice this week I have driven along this rue sans joi in the driving rain. This highway of road cones and Little Chefs is a fit landscape for the tedium of modern driving. We drive to arrive. The journey itself is a meaningless blur. The motorists on either side of me look grey- faced, mortgaged, forlorn. I catch my face in the mirror and realise that I look exactly the same. To borrow - and slightly alter - a famous line: I had not thought debt had undone so many.
In the winter drizzle, motorway England seems hunched and beaten to me, with only the electricity pylons to hold up the sky. But just outside Colchester I follow the directions I've been given and take to the smaller roads. And then my rage against the present begins to subside as another England emerges from the wintry penumbra. It is not quite an Elgar moment, but almost. The road narrows and there are cattle in the fields on either side. They are fine, fat, healthy looking brown bullocks. A little further on there is a field of newly ploughed earth upon which several pheasant are loitering. The rat-run of the M25 has vanished.
I stop the car and get out. Far to the west I can make out the grumble of traffic, but it is not loud enough to destroy the serenity of these quiet fields. I am on my way to see a wonderful man, a retired colonel by the name of Donald Easten, who lives in the village of Wormingford.
Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I am here for the sake of memory. Not my personal memory, but the recollections of others who week by week are dying out. It was my personal experience of reporting war which led me to a strong belief in the necessity of remembrance. I think it is well done in this country. Sombre and reflective, with no sense of glorifying war.
In a week's time I will be presenting the BBC Remembrance Day programme from the Cenotaph, and I am in the process of writing a book about a terrible battle in which Donald Easten fought. His house lies just beyond the village of Wormingford, nestling in the most beautiful part of the valley. The other day he took me for a walk along the banks of the River Stour and pointed to Suffolk, just yards away across the brackish water.
To reach his home, you drive down a narrow lane past the village church. Donald and his wife Billy will wander up the lane to the church to commemorate Remembrance Sunday. He was a soldier in Bill Slim's 14th Army - the "Forgotten Army" which turned the tide of battle in the east - and Billy commanded an anti-aircraft crew in London. One night her crew brought down a German bomber. "I just burst into tears," she says, "knowing that a command of mine had ended somebody's life." They are gentle people for whom war is a thing best remembered in quiet voices. In this season …
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Publication information: Article title: A Soldier's Story Is as Much about Love as It Is about the Cruelties of War ; A Man Who Has Seen the Worst of War Believes It Could Only Be Embarked upon as `the Last, the Last, Last Resort'. Contributors: Keane, Fergal - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 2, 2002. Page number: 20. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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