Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 5th 2015 Contents B10
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, November 5, 2015
It was pure coincidence that T and I found our-
selves motoring through Flanders fields a week
before Remembrance Sunday.
It was her birthday so we were on our way to
the beautiful Belgian city of Bruges (or Brugge, in
the local language; which is, rather confusingly,
The city---much loved by tourists for its perfectly
preserved 17th century architecture---is just a three-
hour drive from Paris. We drove through the Somme,
where the blood-red poppies grow wild, now sym-
bolic of the dead of both world wars.
November 11 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of
the 11th month, 1918, when the guns fell silent and
the Armistice was signed) is a public holiday in
France and Belgium.
In England, Remembrance Sunday is marked
with sombre wreath-laying and salutes at the Ceno-
taph war memorial on Whitehall.
No war better demonstrates the futility of conflict
than the Great War. It involved 60 million people
and killed ten million servicemen and women---
obliterating a significant proportion of an entire
generation, some conscripted straight after leaving
school or university.
It isn t taught much in the Caribbean---European
history having been replaced with Caribbean history
in schools. It seems to me that a reminder of the
barbarity that colonial Europeans did to each other,
as well as to the Caribbean, wouldn t go amiss.
The oldest surviving veteran of WWI died in
2012. Florence Green, who served in the Royal Air
Force, was 110. Harry Patch, the longest surviving
soldier to have died in those appalling trenches,
died aged 111, in 2009. Having kept silent about
the war for decades, he finally broke his silence
when he turned 100, as though becoming a cen-
tenarian finally entitled him to speak.
He described the war as "organised mass murder"
and England and Germany as two dogs fighting
for their lives like savages.
One soldier who spoke out during the war was
the poet Siegfried Sassoon. His poem Suicide In
The Trenches is an enduring wound that brought
home the reality of the horror.
"I knew a simple soldier boy who grinned at life
in empty joy. Slept soundly through the lonesome
dark and whistled early with the lark. In winter
trenches, cowed and glum, With crumps and lice
and lack of rum, He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again. You smug-faced crowds
with kindling eye who cheer when soldier lads
march by. Sneak home and pray you ll never know
the hell where youth and laughter go."
In London, just before our Flanders excursion,
I spent a week working the night shift as news
reporter for London s Evening Standard newspaper.
At times I felt more like a detective than a journalist.
At the editor s whim I door-stepped the Duke
of Buccleuch s neighbours to "get them to complain"
about the "mega basement" being built under his
South Kensington mansion; I traced a Sri Lankan
divorcee awarded £750,000 in a settlement from
her abusive millionaire husband to a refuge in
And I revealed the identity of a Portuguese deliv-
ery man who died on his scooter in a road accident
within sight of Stratford s Olympic Stadium. When
one editor tried to persuade me to obtain the dead
man s mobile phone number and his widow s
address I realised the tabloid journo life was not
On the Kings Road in Chelsea (London s wealth-
iest neighbourhood) I bought a poppy off a Chelsea
pensioner (the red-coated retired soldiers housed
at the nearby barracks.)
He had recently moved down to London from
Leeds at the army s invitation after his wife died.
He knew nothing about the local disquiet over plans
to build a £1bn train station as part of the £28bn
Crossrail 2 project.
A small Italian boy asked him where he
got all his medals and he began saying,
"Malaya..." but the boy, perhaps suffering
from ADD, cried out "whaa? whaaa?!"
then grew disinterested.
Within an hour I realised my poppy had
disintegrated and fallen off.
In medieval Bruges, we strolled the pic-
turesque bridges and cobbled streets
between canals and horse-drawn carts.
In the backstreets, away from the
crowds, we made a superb discovery. An
antique dealer with some astonishing
African artefacts; mostly Congolese.
A huge wooden chiselled stick in a holder
that villagers grind in a circular motion
when trying to make a decision until it
stops turning and the spirits have given
the answer. Small weights in the shape of
crocodiles and turtles from the border of
Ghana and Ivory Coast, used to measure
gold powder. Axes representing status.
Arrowheads for short spears. A "bell"
(more like a rattle) inside a leather pouch
worn on the waist to let people know your
location. And prehistoric flint "axe head"
tools from the Neolithic and stone age
periods used for cutting, digging and
butchering animal carcasses.
Amongst this anthropological treasure
trove, we bought an Afro comb dated 1910-
1930 and added it to the pile of modern
birthday gifts purchased from the increas-
ingly Christmassy department stores of
In Flanders fields
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