FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THE PALS MEMORIAL.
Our party going to the Somme for the first anniversary of the Pals memorial was a little smaller than the one we took over last year, never the less it was tinged with more than a little emotion because my old pal Jack Wardle has decided that this would be his final year for making anymore visits to the Somme because of his increasing and debilitating ill health.
So you can imagine the poignancy of our regular Friday night visit to the Menin Gate , where every year Jack has said the exhaltation to hear him say it for ther final time. Although we had taken him in a wheelchair (much to his annoyance) he stood to attention unaided and with a voice loud and clear, his and his fathers medals gleaming on his chest,chin held high and in the stillness and serenity all around us he said the Exhaltation at Menin Gate for the last time. Just before that my old friend Jack had given me my proudest moment. In his gentle yorkshire accent he pulled me to one side and said, 'Sheila lass, I want thee to lay a poppy wreath for me at the top a them theer steps wi' Pam.'
Now Pam had been in the forces and had done this more times than she would care to admit to, me being a mere novice was shaking like the proverbial leaf. Pam said,'Just follow what I do, it'll all be over in a couple of minutes.'What she forgot to tell me was that Pam being in uniform would also salute after the placing of the wreaths.
Anyway.! Off we set after a nod from the British Legion Officer across the cobbles and up the ten steps to the memorial where without me tripping over myself in sombre silence we laid our wreaths, bowed our heads and then stepped back apace.
Now I'm still keeping my eye on Pam and suddenly I see her right arm coming up for a salute . My right hand was almost to waist level before I realised what it was she was about to do. Quick as a flash (or so I thought ) I dropped the offending appendage, but too late, she had spotted my error. What she called me afterwards is not allowed in a family newspaper but it did begin with a 'P'. However I have to say this was my proudest moment.
On the Saurday we all went to Imosphinx Annual Dinner where I met the existing members of the bureau who are all around eighty years of age. It was here that Jack made his moving farewell speech and was given a standing ovation at the end. I myself was given a book about the Belgian Underground with all their names and histories of the members who were killed between 1940-44, another highlight of my trip.
The dinner went on for six hours so there was ample time for us to drink and dance between each course of the excellent meal.
Monday was the day for our Anniversary trip to Sheffield Park on the Somme and the memorial for the Barnsley Pals who never made it back to blighty. We bowed our heads for the two minutes silence then Jack said the Exhaltation
I have to say that the memorial is being well looked after and we all left our poppies each with our own private memory. Mine of course was to my Dad who I hope when he watched me lay the wreath at Menin Gate the precious Friday was as proud of me as I am of him. You can bet he had a chuckle at my little faux pas in regard to the unwitting use of my right arm.
My husband Sam and son Jerry were over on the Somme in July and visited Sheffield Park with the specific purpose of cleaning the memorial for our coming October trip.
We revisited all the cemeteries we had been to before and some which I myself had not seen and it did not minimise the effect it had upon me or my comrades. Once more we left our messages in the books of memories and read the ones of those who had been there before us. Unfortunately there are still those with hatred in their hearts , who find it necessary to register those thoughts in these precious tomes.
Once again we visited Sanctuary Wood,this was the place where my old Dad had been, only this time the guy who runs the museum lent me a huge torch so that I could go through the underground tunnels which are now opened up to the public.
Talk about walking in my fathers footsteps. All I can say is 'WOW'!!!!!
I do hope that Jack changes his mind and is well enough to go with us on the coming Anniversary, it all started with him coming to see us to see if we would help him raise three thousand pounds for the Barnsley Pals Memorial in nineteen ninety eight because all they had was a six inch piece of wood nailed to a tree, now they have a beautiful black granite memorial stone etched in letters of gold with the Barnsley coat of arms on. We are proud of that memorial, proud of Jack Wardle and most of all proud of the men who daily keep those cemeteries spotless for the likes of us to go and remember our dead. We also take extra poppy crosses to put on graves who have no one to visit them as we will be doing on the 7th of October for the anniversary of the memorial. I do agree with Paul Routledge about the giving out of countless millions which I must add I do not begrudge but at the same time we have to get our priorities right and if it wasn't for the millions of young lads who gave their lives so that our country would be free we might be living under very different circumstances.