I have in front of me an old black and white photograph. In the centre pulled by two horses is a cart: the wheels are almost as high as the horses. On each horse, a man in uniform, sashes over the shoulders, peaked caps obscuring their eyes. In the background there are more horses, more men, but it’s the cart that is the focus of the piece. It , and the horses, are on a road bordered by a low stone wall. The road is badly surfaced. The wheels look metallic. They are thick-rimmed. On the back of the cart is a gun, an enormous gun. Immediately behind the gun, a uniformed man marching. He is tall. His face is blurred. He is my great grandfather.
The picture is a copy of a postcard he sent to his fiancée in 1915.
Within eighteen months he could not march.
He manned a gun at the Somme. He continued to man the gun when his leg was blown off. He got a medal for that. Married his fiancée, had children.
He was an old old man when I was a child. He lived with his son, and his wife – my papa and granny. In their home he had a special chair, high-backed. No-one else sat in it. Even when he was away for a brief period of respite care no-one sat in it. It was his.
He was bald. Bespectacled. His ear lobes were large then, his hearing poor. He had an ochre coloured cardigan. He wore dark trousers. His leg clanged when you knocked it. And we knocked it…
When he died my mum got a morning call. She sat in tears at the bottom of our stairs cradling the phone. And we cried because she was crying.
When we visited my granny’s house the weekend after his chair was empty.
When it comes to November every year I wear a poppy. And I remember him. And the others.