Monday, November 15, 2010

Military Monday - Guest Post with Matt Reay

Not long ago I did an interview with Matt Reay, a fellow family history buff.  We met quite a while ago now in a Genealogy chatroom.  He's a very talented writer and is passionate about his family history.
He was nice enough to do a guest post today for Military Monday! 

Hello, all!

Firstly, I would like to say thank you to Aislynn for asking me to put up a guest post on this, the most interesting and homely of blogs on genealogy I have seen. It’s a privilege to be able to contribute to such a thing, so cheers, Ais!

I have chosen to write about Remembrance as a theme for this post, on “Military Monday”. Also, it is rather timely I think, so the two merge rather well.

As nations all around the world come together in unity to remember those who gave their lives in field of battle, we remember how much of a crucial role military plays in our family trees, too. Almost without exception, especially for those living in the United Kingdom as I do, or France, Germany, Canada and the United States, at some point a story will be told or a discovery made involving a letter or a photograph concerning a relative who fought or joined the services perhaps as a career choice. Whether we see it as good or not, the military has been and remains an area of genealogy we expect to approach at some stage in researching.

Researching a military ancestor is personally one of the most rewarding and interesting parts of genealogy. I am a military boffin myself and I ‘m always wanting to find out more about the different battles and conditions of the wars that tore such a hole into my family. It’s not as long ago as one might think, if you consider that only three generations separate us now, from them, then. Service records and medals make the research worth all of the waiting and anticipation, regardless of how long it takes to manifest.

But at the same time, war is something you never hope to encounter in your own family. You expect it, but hope there will be damage limitation in the field of the unknown. There can be no more destructive event than war. What we see, particularly in the two World Wars, is an entire generation of young men bearing arms in the pursuit of the protection of freedom, with casualties that number more than the people we cross in the street in our entire lifetime. It’s important we remember not only there stories but their sacrifice. It takes great courage for anybody to lay down their life for their family and friends.

It is with this sentiment that I wrote the following poem, which I am giving to the subscribers of this blog as the centrepiece of my post. It concerns a group of friends who experience the horrors of war on a battlefield in Belgium in 1917.

Oor War Wi Mick

Wake up in the mornin’ at quarter past five
And ready yourself fae the day
Heavin’ and diggin’ the coal out the ground
With nought but a shilling for pay

Wi mammy and pappy and wee brother Jack
I grew up in Cambuslang town
In from a shift dressed as dark as the day
There’d be tatties and haggis all round

For life was a straight narrow road back then
And I had all my pals around too
In the Old Dog at night with Jack, Billy and Mick
We’d sit down and throw back the brew

Then a call from the foreign green fields of the war
Came swiftly and fell on our ears
A great fight fae freedom the generals proclaimed
A hero and back by the end of the year

I was given a hat and an old British rifle
They measured me up in the tent
In a day I was numbered a soldier fae battle
From mammy and mining I went.

Billy was drafted in second battalion
Whilst Mick, Jack and I went tae third
We left for the continent blank but uplifted
And never shared more than a word

As days went on by I went down in the trenches
Lived life as do rats in the ground
And saw many sons disappear in the mist
As the Highlanders ran up the mounds.

Then over my head came a thick bastard gas
And whistles blew endlessly well
Mick died in my arms as I reached for his gasmask
And the great fight for freedom yellowed to hell.

We buried Mick up on the mound the next day
When the fighting and land had been won
We prayed that his mammy would know in her mind
That his service te Scotland was done.

Oh and when we were told that the guns had gone silent
That this bloody campaign was nae more
We cried for our lives and the buddies we’d lost
Te the mud and the horrors o’ war.

Yet as the years pass we’re still drinking away
Remembering Mick as we do so
For the lives left behind and the family we’ve grown
Owe him more than then they ever will know

We must remember people like these. I think this is an appropriate place to end so I shall do so with these words.

“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.”

Thank you for reading.
Matt Reay

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