Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Challenges of War.

Before I begin, I would just like to thank everyone who left such generous and kind comments on my entry last week. It was lovely to receive them - and a great encouragement to continue!

This week’s 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups was to write 100 words with the title, or theme ‘...lest we forget...’

I have to say that, despite Julia’s words to the contrary, I found this much harder than last week’s – but mostly because it was difficult to decide how to use the prompt. It seemed so overwhelmingly associated with Remembrance Day, that I felt I should go off in another direction, but in the end I couldn’t.

There’s a lot of family memory rooted in this one weekend every year, and it is only right that I should honour it.

But first, I want to tell you a story – a true story.
And as we are allowed to include a photograph as part of this week’s challenge, I shall do so, when I get to my entry further on.

My husband’s great grandfather was Harry Moorhouse. He was born in 1869, near Leeds in Yorkshire, and came into the world, as the expression was, hosed and shod. His family owned a woolen mill, but as a young man, making cloth didn’t sing to him as much as the idea of adventure, so instead, at 22, he joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and became a professional soldier. His first active service was in South Africa during the Boer War.

In the early 1890s he married his sweetheart, Susanna Marsdin and they had three children – Ronald Wilkinson, Lydia Marjorie and a second son, Alan. Marjorie, as she was known, was my husband’s grandmother.

When war was declared in 1914, Harry eagerly reported for duty in Wakefield, joining the KOYLI’s 4th Battalion as a Major. His son Ronald had no intention of being left behind, and, volunteering immediately, received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the same Battalion. Father and son arrived in France together in April 1915.

Just four months later, Harry was wounded. A bullet went through his ankle and he was sent back to England; but by the end of the year had returned to the front, and in January 1916 he received the Distinguished Service Order. He was wounded again during the first days of the Battle of the Somme in July – a bullet this time going through his shoulder, and shrapnel damaging his upper arm. At the time, Harry was standing in for the battalion commander who had himself been been wounded, and he refused to leave his post, but after a further hour and a half he had lost so much blood that he was forced to go to the field hospital. Once again he was sent back to England for medical treatment in Leeds.

Both he and Ronald wrote regular letters home, and we are lucky enough to still have some of these in their tiny, typically early-twentieth century envelopes.  They say very little about what life was like at the front – there was probably no point, as letters were heavily censored – but they are full of love and reassurances.

Ronald meanwhile had been promoted to Temporary Captain, in charge of his own company, a role he obviously fulfilled with great courage and competence, as in April 1917 he led a raid on enemy trenches, commanding 91 men and 4 other officers. Under cover of darkness, their faces blackened, and with a protective barrage of fire exploding all around them, they advanced through mud, wire and craters to the German front line. Unbelievably, they were successful, but their mission was destined to fail, as when they got there it was to find the trenches abandoned, the machine guns removed. However, they immediately came under heavy fire. Calmly and with great leadership, Ronald got all his men away, even though he was wounded himself while helping another injured man back to their own lines. No one was killed and Ronald was sent back to England on a hospital ship, much to his mother’s relief. But the respite didn’t last for long – a month later he returned to the front where he was not only made Captain, but also received the Military Cross for his heroism. He was just 22 years old.

I wish I could tell you that the story of their time in France ended there, but it didn’t. Worse was to come.
I’ll tell you what happened tomorrow.

For now, with Harry and Ronald Moorhouse very much in mind, here is my entry for this week’s 100 word challenge.

The challenge was to write exactly 100 words including the phrase ‘...lest we forget...’
I understand it was supposed to be 100 words, plus the 3 words of the prompt.
If not, then my piece can lose its title.

The photograph is of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Moorehouse, DSO TD, Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur, 4th Battalion, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

...lest we forget...

...lest we forget the roaring and the thunder,
the shells, the gas, the stench of naked fear,
the broken cries of grown men for their mothers,
the midnight thoughts – ‘Whose madness brought me here?’

...lest we forget the mud, the filth, the anger,
the freezing of the heart as comrades die,
the images of sweethearts, home and young ones
quenched deep in eyes locked, sightless, to the sky.

...lest we forget the fear of sleep  –  of dreaming -
by those returned, unharmed by guns or men;
remember: though the past’s a different country,
today they will be fighting once again.


Harry and Ronald's story continues in The Tragedies of War


  1. Haunting and powerful, Robin

  2. Lorely I read this twice it was so good. I got so caught up in it first time round that I didn't even notice the rhyme.

    I really enjoyed reading about your family history in the first part too.

  3. An excellent and informative post, Lorely - finished beautifully with your piece for the challenge.

    I too found this week by far the hardest challenge so far.

    Very glad to see you become a 100wc regular.

  4. Very very powerfully written. We should never forget.

  5. This is a wonderful poem - so powerful and rich in language. I love: Who's madness brought me hear? Poignant and true. I want to know what happened to Harry and ronald but I feasr that it won't be good news.

  6. This poem is beautiful. We must never forget.

  7. I visited the WW1 trenches as quite a young girl - I tell you I could hear the echoes of the sounds in this poem. A stark reminder of the horrors.

  8. This is an powerful portrayal of the anguish and poignancy of war. Loved it

  9. I found your piece very difficult to read because it was so dramatic and pulled no punches. I loved your 'stench of fear' & 'whose madness brought me here'. Wonderful writing!

  10. A brilliant piece of work. How long did it take you to craft this? Scans beautifully, rhymes (!) and with incredibly powerful imagery. Don't tell me this took you 10 minutes or I'd call you genius!

  11. Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments. I know this sounds unbelievably stupid, (I can only plead that I am very new to all this) - but I have only just managed to find a way of leaving a comment on my own blog. Duh! I have tried, also to leave comments on most of your sites, but have so far singularly failed... Sorry. Will try harder. But just - thank you all!


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