Whilst on a weekend break in West Wales recently, I happened to pick up a book that started all this. The book was called Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard. What set me off on this journey was a sentence in the opening paragraph:
This is Thiepval, where only the clamping mist of an autumn morning can hide the massive, brick-arched statement of our collective conscience that is the memorial to the missing of the Somme.
That cold November morning when I visited the monument at Thiepval came flooding back to me. There was a heavy frost and thick mist in the process of clearing in the weak autumn sunshine. It must have been in the late 1980's or early 90's and at the time I was still young and stupid enough, at fortyish, to think I was a tough guy. I think that day changed all that!
If you have never been to this extraordinary place then you won't quite understand the emotions that pour out of those massive sixteen square columns. Each surface of each column has a list of names, generally ordered by regiment, of the missing during the battle of the Somme. In total there are over 73,000 names of men who fell between July and November 1916 and who have no known grave. Their bodies were never found! That mind blowing statistic stunned me and as I wandered around each of the sixteen columns reading some of the names, I realised that these were just ordinary men who were used as cannon fodder for the aristocracy of Europe.
I came across one column with one complete side covered, almost entirely, in names from the Gloucestershire regiment. I did a rough count of those names and there was something over seven hundred. I just could not imagine that within a five month period this many soldiers from one regiment were not only killed but no remains could be identified. That is without all those killed that were identified and given a proper burial. As I continued walking around those horrific and yet magnificent columns, I have to admit that I started to shed a genuine tear for those men, their families and the appalling waste. I like to think that as a species we have learnt something since that tragic period in history but sadly I fear not. You only have to look at what is going on in the Middle East now to realise that we have learnt absolutely nada!
The Glosters, as they were known, was the regiment that I served in for a while during my nine or so years in the military. Long after this conflict, obviously, but I still felt a certain affinity with these men. Most British soldiers have served their time and taken part in one conflict or another – mine was Northern Ireland. A very much smaller affair with less casualties. Being surrounded by such an immense reminder of loss of life brought back some rather unpleasant memories for me from my time in the Troubles. The night Snake's brother was killed leaving behind a wife and two children was a particularly low point. Also how a normal person can be bent and twisted by the horrible events that are going on around. As well as the realization that true friendship is incredibly hard to find.
Reading the opening paragraph of that book stirred it all up again for me. I got to thinking, as I get closer to checking out, I should try and put my house in order so to speak. What is my legacy? What can I pass on to my children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren? I don't have much in the financial stakes but I do have my life with the highs and lows that were party to creating the person I am today. Maybe not a great person, probably not even a good person but a person none the less who has been shaped by events. I have done many things in my life I wish I hadn't. I have done one or two things that I am glad I did but overall I have few regrets. Someone famous, I don't know who, once said: Always look ahead, there are no regrets in that direction.
The important thing that keeps me going is that I do not yet feel fulfilled. I will always feel as though I have another phase of my live to come. There will always be one more adventure to have and as long as I am able I will continue to look forward to something on the horizon.
My children don't really know me, they only know a small part of me. My grandchildren are in various stages of growing up and I am not on their radar. If I could play Minecraft, ballet dance, play football or roar like a dinosaur then maybe I would stand a chance. My great grandchildren are nowhere to be seen yet and I wonder if I will achieve that milestone.
One sad regret I have is that I did not know my father (Gaston Robert Blouet) very well and I certainly did not know his father. My mother's father frightened me a bit and I did not know him at all really. I wish I had. He served in the Great War, I believe at Ypres where he was wounded. Back in those days we never seemed to have any emotional involvement with our family elders. I didn't anyway.
This is not a story. This is not a blog. This is not a diary of events in my life, although there will often be references and little anecdotes. In many cases this will just be a collection of musings and philosophies according to Smith, Smudger, BapBap, Blouet, Peter and all the other names I have been called throughout my life.
Why am I doing this? Good question... Well since writing a kind of blog when I lived in Spain, many people have encouraged me to try it again, Some of them actually said they quite enjoyed my efforts. There is no accounting for taste is there. Since leaving Spain and living back here in this very green, very wet and not so pleasant land I have not been inspired to do anything but I realise that I have to do something and I need a project. Well, this is it, or one of them anyway.
This depressing tale of a sad bastard's life and thoughts is not really set down to entertain nor is it in any sort of chronological order.but, in the years to come when I am no longer here or I am sitting around watching day-time TV in my soiled incontinence pants, maybe one of my descendants will take the time to trawl through this and see a small bit of themselves in these pages and think of me.