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And the Heaven’s cried…

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As the darkness loomed the rain which had been threatening all day began to fall, not much, but just enough to kick up the dust and bring on that smell you get after a thunder storm which has been promising to erupt for days finally falls… It matched my mood.

This could well be the last entry of this blog. Or at least the last entry written while I’m out here doing my job. I’ve been trying to write this for months with several false starts, aborted attempts and more than a few expletives. I’ve written much about all types of music while writing this blog. I’ve written of music I listen to, that which I’ve written, music I like and music I’ve seen but, of all these I think this entry is the most pertinent. This is about a ‘Song from a Distant Theatre’. As the rain fell I felt it was time to add to this, but I digress, let’s start at the beginning…

Today didn’t quite start as expected. Our replacements arrived in the early hours of yesterday morning and, by lunchtime, we’d started the long awaited Handover/Takeover process, HUGE sighs of relief all round.

With that in mind, this morning should have arrived with some sense of elation, or at least a little excitement. But no, another bad night’s sleep, another early start and, to cap it all, there were clouds from one edge of the horizon to the other. Rain.

So, with trepidation, we headed into work for the second day of our HOTO. Despite the worry of rain everything went to plan and the day went well. We had to cancel the afternoon’s briefs we’d planned as their was to be a vigil held for the second of the two soldiers who died over New Year. This was to be the last vigil I’d attend on this tour (I hope) and I wasn’t sure how I felt. There was definitely relief, no more, there was a tinge of sadness, I can only remember 1 or 2 weeks we’ve been out here where we haven’t to attend one of thes

Private Joseva Saqanagonedau Vatubua was killed on 1st January 2011. He was on patrol with his unit, a member of 5 Scots (prevously known to us all as the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), when an explosion killed him. ‘Big Joe’ as he was known to those who served with (according to the eulogies read today) was a mountain of a man who played rugby at the highest level, loved his job and was a charismatic character.

These services are hard to take at the best of times. When the Scots or Irish are involved they’re even harder for me, as a piper, as the lament always makes my hairs stand on end and the lump rise in my throat. Today was no different.

And then it was.

The service panned out as normal, the introduction, prayer, eulogies, last post, lament, reveille, reading and dedication all rolled out as normal and then something new happened.

‘Big Joe’ was Fijian you see and there are a fair number of these proud people serving in our Army including many in 5 Scots. As the vigil drew to a close those Fijians present broke into song. It was obviously rehearsed as they performed like a well schooled choir* with the bass and baritone voices forming beautiful harmonies as they sang a song I don’t know, I don’t even know the title and heard too few of the words to even hazard a guess, but it wasn’t the lyric. It was the sentiment. And it broke me.

After the song ended we were fallen out to our duties and, for the first time in all the vigils I’ve attended, there was no buzz of conversation until what seemed like several minutes after that order. Usually it’s like an immediate release valve, but not tonight. There seemed to be a sombre mood over the gathered crowd and tonight, having spoken to several friends it seems I’m not the only one to have been affected.

We returned to work with the clouds still hanging over us and continued to work on our HOTO.

As the darkness loomed the rain which had been threatening all day began to fall, not much, but just enough to kick up the dust and bring on that smell you get after a thunder storm which has been promising to erupt for days finally falls… It matched my mood.

I’d like to think that rain was whomever or whatever it is we pray to when we hold these services showing his respect, or at least understanding for our loss. It may seem wishful thinking or childish fantasy, but tonight it makes me feel that little bit better.

I’ll be heading home within a week or so and I’ll be doing my best to forget everything out here, for at last a little while. I will, however, always remember the day that the heavens cried for Private Joseva ‘Big Joe’ Saqanagonedau Vatubua.

Ne Obliviscaris.

* It turns out it was a choir, and one which Joe had been a member of.

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