31 July 2017
Last Friday I wrote about young Reuben Powell who tragically died two days after being wounded near Ypres on this day, July 31st, a hundred years ago.
If you happened to watch the live relay of the centenary Commemoration from the Menin Gate on the BBC last night, you could not have failed to be moved by the 54,000 names inscribed there. They are the names of the men whose bodies were never found. Almost as moving is the fact that every evening since 1929, at 8pm (except when the country was occupied during the Second World War), the Last Post is sounded. This tribute is the gift of the citizens of Ypres to the Allies who liberated them.
It was through the Menin Gate on the eastern side of the town that the soldiers marched out to the horrors of the battlefield beyond. I don’t know if Reuben’s name is written there, or if he has a soldier’s grave in one of the many war cemeteries — but as he was wounded, hopefully he would at least have been taken to a dressing-station.
Reuben’s brother, Albert, served him, and if one of Albert’s descendants happens to read this, perhaps they can fill me in? (Mistakenly, last week I referred to Reuben’s brother as Arthur, in fact his name was Albert.) They may attend the Vigil this evening, and someone may alert them to this. Apologies for any errors, and I am only too willing to make amends.
It struck BH and I, as we last watched the BBC programme last night, that the best, perhaps the only good thing about the whole terrible campaign was the friendships the men made. The survivors all mentioned their mates.
One imagines friendships made under such circumstances last forever.