Six weeks ago I was very touched to be asked if I would cover the Remembrance weekend for my local village.
Now – you have to understand that ‘my local village’, tucked away to the west of Northampton and lying in the shadow of Althorp House, is not exactly huge. The parish comprises Great and Little Brington with the tiny hamlet of Nobottle (just 13 houses) added in for good measure. I could only find two references for population size online and neither of them exactly up to date:-
492 people lived in the entire parish according to the 2001 census.
9 people lived here according to the Domesday Book.
So – whilst the village has grown somewhat since 1086 – you get the picture. We are not exactly a metropolis.
And the size of this little bit of England is reflected on the village war memorial.
Just 28 names.
Weathered and forlorn.
And – if I’m honest – I didn’t know how we were going to make this into a whole WEEKEND of remembrance?
(Never did I get anything quite so wrong)
The weather was kind and Friday dawned sunny and dry.
As I raced through the village early that morning in search (as ever) of milk I screeched to a halt and reversed back slightly. And then I parked.
And walked to the war memorial.
No longer ‘just’ 28 names. But 28 photographs of REAL men. Men who had lived in this very village. Men whose names had been ‘just names’ ….but now I saw were brothers and cousins.
And – given the size of the village – you just knew would have all been neighbours. Gone to school together. Been friends.
And I felt the tears well up.
And, later that afternoon, these men and boys on the railings behind us watched as the children from the village school walked up through the village in the hazy, low winter sun to lay their crosses.
Men and boys who went to that same school.
And no doubt walked along that same path.
And whose brothers & sisters, and own children, would have been at that very school whilst they were away fighting.
And the children listened intently as the Great War was explained to them.
But it was all a lifetime away in another world.
Just as it would have been to the children at the same school in 1914.
Because – 100 years ago – as this little Northampton village was falling apart with grief as son after son, dad after dad, brother after brother didn’t come home – little children were still being taught at Brington School.
And teachers would have, like today, stood in front of them trying to explain it all to them
And they would have listened intently.
Not really understanding.
And I felt very humbled.
Meanwhile back at The Reading Rooms the most unbelievable exhibition was being unveiled.
The village has a History Society and its members had each taken a name from that memorial and ‘researched’. Amazing facts had been discovered, documents traced and descendants located.
The whole event was opened by Earl Spencer who chatted with the researchers and the descendants ….checked out the guns…… and read movingly from his Grandmothers diary.
She described being taken around the village by her father to offer condolences to the bereaved. How one mother – who had lost her only son and inconsolable in her grief – never moved, nor looked up, nor spoke all the time they were there.
As the mother of an only son I could imagine.
And then – over the course of the weekend – there were talks
And there were tea parties.
And the Ladies Choir sang songs from the era and we all joined in.
And in amongst it all people turned up in droves. A new generation of Northampton people learning new things from a Northampton long gone.
With some of us probably understanding it all more than others.
But then – even those of us like me – the lucky ones who can never truly understand –
would sometimes be brought to a complete standstill.
Because it is only if you are a local – or drive through the tiny hamlet of Nobottle, with its thirteen scattered dwellings, most of which can’t even be seen from the road – that you can truly comprehend some of the headlines from the newspapers of the day.
And what they actually would have meant to the people who lived here.
And then, poignantly, at the setting of the sun, we walked through the village to the war memorial to remember them
And to the strains of The Last Post we stood with bowed heads and reflected.
And no one more than the photographer
Who realised she had got something very, very wrong.
She had thought that this little, tiny village that she calls home would struggle to make Remembrance Sunday into a whole weekend
After all – there are only 28 names on the war memorial.
But she had noticed something.
The ‘Survivors’ Photo – a beautiful image, taken in the school playground, of the boys and men who made it home.
In particular the middle row. She had scanned left to right, looking at each face very carefully
And then it dawned on her.
There are 14 men in that middle row. Had the same photograph been taken just six years earlier this village would have had TWO more rows of men to be photographed.
Seven rows of sons, and dads, and brothers, and friends.
Instead of five.
Never again will she think that there are ‘only’ 28 names on her village war memorial.