That's how I feel about 'my' soldier and his grave. It doesn't look this untidy after today's sprucing up!
There's still disagreement about how many - on both sides - died in this battle, and while Edgar Mobbs was just one, for me he represents all those aspirations and possibilities cut off in their prime. Another casualty on this day was Hedd Wyn, the Welsh bard. War does not discriminate.
That VC was posthumous, gained in the raid on Zeebrugge, which he'd volunteered for. A notice pinned at Scapa Flow had asked for single, athletic men to put their names down for 'a show' and Harrison had taken up the challenge. He was killed leading his men along a parapet under machine gun fire; that wonderful lantern jaw had already been smashed by a shell.
This is a painting on display near the royal box, a reproduction by Shane Record of a famous photograph of the England team of April 1914, about to play France. The players with their roses 'greyed' rather than red died during the war.
The guy in the natty headgear is Arthur Harrison, VC, who volunteered for hazardous service and died in the Zeebrugge raids. Almost hidden in the back row is Robert Pillman, who was shot during a night raid near Armentieres. A contemporary photo of Pillman shows a remarkable resemblance to the current England captain, Dylan Hartley.
Also in that row is Jimmy Dingle, who died retaking Scimitar Hill near Suvla bay (having already taken it and been ordered to relinquish it.) Right at the end is James Watson who was a doctor (I wonder if he was ever heaved into touch at Old Deer Park). He served as naval surgeon on the Hawke when she was torpedoed and sunk. Down on the front row is Francis Oakeley, a submarine lieutenant on the HMS D2, which disappeared at sea after being rammed by a German patrol boat.
And who's that in the middle? Has to be the lovely Ronnie Poulton Palmer, who was shot by a sniper near 'Plugstreet' Wood. My favourite quote from "The Greater Game" concerns RPP, and his friend, the army chaplain Dick Dugdale who said he loved Ronnie more than anyone else and told his sister, 'each year passing merely means one year less to wait for Ronald'.
I read Andrew Martin's The Somme Stations a couple of years ago and enjoyed it hugely. He writes a cracking mystery, does Mr. Martin, and the Jim Stringer books are always entertaining.
And funny how RAF pilots seem to feature heavily among England's record scorers...
I've been discovering all sorts of stuff about players I'd never heard of. Norman Brabazon Dick, Frank Pilley (from my old neck of the woods, Stoke Newington), the adorable Charles Dearing and many others. It's a fantastic resource - I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
What about Dave Gallaher? His All Black shirt is among the memorabilia at the Saracens stadium.
Or Jimmy Dingle, one of several internationals from the England team who never made it home.
And the marvellous David Bedell-Sivright who once held up the traffic in Edinburgh by laying down on the tram tracks - nobody dared to shift him.
Check out some of the other heroes of battle, whether it be fifteen man a side or millions.
Of course, Jonty and Orlando both spent some time working for Room 40, thanks to Mr. Stewart's friendship with Blinker. Both of them have been very cagey in terms of telling me exactly what they did, but this book has given me some definite clues. Part of Jonty's role had to be acting as the sort of decoy MIib also had, somebody who could provide a front to the office and give 'the impression of a typical British idiot'. Orlando would have been doing the decoding, no doubt irritated by being surrounded by linguists and classicists.
One of my WWI 'heroes' is Wilfred Jesson; local Southampton lad, rugby player and cricketer (played against Ranji at Lord's). Like one of my other lads, Wilfred Owen, Jesson was hardly any taller than I am, and he features in one of the best (IMHO) books about the war, Stephen Cooper's The Final Whistle. As I was doing some further research on Jesson, I discovered this from the Sherborne old boys, which details a number of those who feature on the school's roll of honour. His private papers are listed on the Imperial War Museum site.
BTW I love connections; Sherborne was Turing's school and the writer of the flyer has links to the local Remount depot.
A soldier at last is granted war grave recognition.
An actress's medals are auctioned.
And a poignant remembrance of a young bandsman goes on display.
And that's my first recommendation. Beautifully bitter sweet, pulling no punches, it's a story of loss, hope, pride and pain.
Strange Meeting, by Susan Hill, was one of the first books I read that was set in this era, and it's haunted me ever since. The same themes of loss and hope are there (they're clearly going to be an ever present for any books set 1914 to 1918) although if you expect a happy ending this may not be the book for you. Wonderfully written, nonetheless.
I couldn't not mention A Pride of Poppies, even if I have a story in the anthology, not least because it introduced me to Jay's work and to other authors I'd not come across before. Some of the stories would grace any volume of war related shorts.
I can't begin to imagine how it must feel to be in that situation, and this is where resources such as personal accounts and poetry become vital. I understand the realities of trench warfare much better from reading the poems of Wilfred Owen, or some of the diaries soldiers kept, than I do from any dry as a bone textbook. I recently discovered the work of Simon Armitage and his poem Remains is a chilling, modern reminder of that universal guilt.
Remains by Simon Armitage.