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Posts Tagged ‘Remembrance’

Birdsong

11 September, 2010 2 comments

I wrote a recent blog concerning the Vigil’s held here each week for the fallen and, unfortunately, it has been every week since my arrival and on most occasions for several individuals.

In my usual location we are isolated by several miles of desert in all directions and, as such, see very little of any kind of animal or plant life (unless of course you count the swarms of Starship Trooper-esque ants which are everywhere in this country)! This week however I have travelled to the capital of Helmand Province to carry out some work on an ailing system and it’s a somewhat different experience. I’ve already written of the bemusing experience of seeing greenery, trees, flowers and a gazebo during my previous visit, but this time I noticed something else…

We paraded in front of six flags; the Union flag, the Stars and Stripes, the national flags of Denmark, Estonia and Afghanistan as well as the Black Rat of 4th Mechanized Brigade who are currently the British war fighting brigade out here.

 

A view of Sangin Valley in Helmand province - ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

The service was in memory of two British soldiers who had died in combat during the previous week, both young men who made a mark on those who they worked with. As the Last Post faded and Flowers of the Forest made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end I noticed something I didn’t even realise I’d missed.  As the sun set and the Muezzin sang the call to prayer behind the stirring sound of the bagpipe’s lament I heard a bird sing. I don’t know my ornithology so I couldn’t even tell you what it was, other than inspiring, rejuvenating, refreshing.

One of my favourite novels is Sebastian FaulksBirdsong, a book I first read between my previous tours of Iraq and Afghanistan and several times since.  A story in three parts (although written as two) it details a man’s life before and after his life in the trenches as a tunnel rat during World War I.  I do not think I have read something either quite so thought provoking or emotionally exhausting in all my years of enjoying literature. I am in awe of the ability of Faulks to write of that period as if he was there, the detail, the depth of perception is, quite simply, staggering. I also find the juxtaposition of the wartime element with the romance of the ‘pre-story’ and the emotion of the closing pages part of its charm.

Despite my love of this book I had never fully grasped the reason for the title. Yes, I am aware of tales of there being no birds over many of the sites of major battles in more than just World War I, and I am aware of the joy birdsong is meant to provide, lifting the heart and healing the soul, but until this day I had never truly understood.

I do now.

It seems strange that the sight of a feathered creature flying erratically over flags flying at half mast, singing their song, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding below them could lift the spirit, but it does, and emphatically so.

It’s moments like these which provide the inspiration for lyrics which mean something, not only to the author, but to the reader or listener as well. Later on that night I found thoughts rattling around my head which needed a release. I’m concerned that much of what I write just now may seem self-obsessed or overly dramatic/melancholy, but I suppose it’s the nature of the beast. At times like these you find yourself questioning your values, your morals and your sensibilities.

Those thoughts found an escape, it’s only a beginning, but here is what may well become Birdsong:

Don’t sing songs in our memory
You can’t know the words
Don’t regale us with stories
The truth needs to be heard

Listen instead for the life we preserved
The sounds you ignore as you walk through your day
Heed what we say as we give you our word
They’re the reason we came here and were willing to stay

When the bird breaks its silence, listen close to the song
It was there in our haven, it followed us on
When the bird breaks its silence, don’t ignore what it sings
It was there as we struggled, as young men became Kings
When the bird breaks its silence, listen through to the end
It was there as they fought, those lions of men
If the bird breaks its silence, you’ll all get to see
The reasons you live in the land of the free

Waking Vigil

8 September, 2010 1 comment

I woke late this afternoon as I’d worked over 24 hours prior to crashing at 09:30 this morning. I had meant to get up during the day and call home but I was woken by a friend to let me know there was a vigil at 17:30 tonight.

Despite the emotions they drag up, especially when the pipes are involved as was the case today, I will not miss one of these services. How could I? I’m part of the process supporting those who do the dirty work and I, as much as you, owe my continued liberties to those who fall.

In a recent email rally with Pete we discussed how times of severe emotion have a huge impact on our writing which was, of course, the whole reason for my starting this blog. Some people drink, others look for trouble, myself? I pour my emotion out onto the page, it’s a cathartic process, and one I’ve taken to more readily on this tour than any other.

So, after a month in theatre, here’s the first new lyrical part I’ve written, Think of it as an excerpt, it was written as a stream of consciousness thing and is yet to be refined into some form of lyric.

Buzzsaws and night lights force unwanted into dreams
Cause nightingales to sing no more of distant lands of green
As dust storms clear and sirens sing to herald the return
Of Kings unsung, though not alone, to start their journey home
The men of fire shall heed the call and sell their souls to ease the pain
As Merlin’s return shall once again bring darkness to the land
The uncrowned Kings who rule this land will earn their place in time
At setting Sun we’ll heed the call and send home someone’s son

The sentiment, I think, is clear although some of the imagery is specific to things over here. I think this process will result in something greater than the sum of its parts. We’ll just have to wait and see.

As it stands I’m now holding my breath awaiting the delivery of some new music to work with so that I can form this and some of the other ideas into material Morpheus Rising can put to use, I’m led to believe I won’t have to wait long.

Until then, I’ll stand vigil…

Faith Healer

25 August, 2010 Leave a comment

Politics and Religion. Two subjects never to be raised in polite conversation… Just as well we’re anything but polite isn’t it?!

There are subtle differences to life in Afghanistan in 2010 when compared to 2007. The workplace is now a portacabin rather than a tent, as is the accommodation, but the locations are the same as is the food… And that’s not all, there is much more going on ‘out there’ with everyday seeing some level of contact with insurgents and PEDROs or MIRTs having to carry out their unenviable role. Perhaps I’m more aware of it this time as our guys are further forward and so they’re directly involved in some of the incidents.

Whichever it is it is somehow less profound than last time, perhaps due to the regularity, and I find myself considering different aspects of the whole process.

On my last tour we attended ‘ramp’ ceremonies to salute those who had passed as they were carried onto the aircraft which would transport them home. It was a humbling experience and one which left its mark on my psyche for all time. Those ceremonies still take place but the number of people involved tends to be smaller and consist of those directly involved or from the same unit. What we do instead now is stand ‘vigil’ en masse prior to the ramp ceremony. There is a parade where eulogies are read by the chain of command of the departed and, in most cases, also by their friends.

These ‘vigils’ are best likened to miniature Remembrance Services. They are led by a member of the Clergy and include the Last Post, 2 minutes silence and cannon fire by way of salute. And here’s my problem… I don’t believe any of those who have given their lives have done so for their Sovereign or God. I know of no soldier who has come here due to a sense of duty to their Nation. We’re here because we’ve been ordered to come and, if we didn’t, someone else would have to take our place and that would be ‘jack’! We’re also here because our friends are here, and who’s going to watch their backs if we don’t?

I’m a strong believer in a ‘higher power’, not necessarily the Church as an institution, but I do have faith. And yet I find the overtly religious ceremony of these services somehow offensive.

Did anyone ask the fallen if they wanted a religious service? Or is it something which is done simply to appease the consciences of those who may feel responsible? I for one find it odd that we should be thanking anyone, let alone God, for the fact that despite their death in a far off distant land the individual died doing what he loved and his family and friends still love him. I bet he didn’t. I challenge you to find anyone who relishes the thought of dying thousands of miles from home from a gun shot wound inflicted by someone they’ll never understand for a reason no-one can explain.

They’ll never see that this fight sets you free
Won’t understand what it takes to be a man
As you struggle to reconcile just who you are
With what you believe, the cause you hold in your hand

I understand that some people find solace and strength in their faith, as do I, but I also find it hypocritical and sanctimonious to preach that those who have laid down their lives have down so in the name of God. I believe that Orson Scott Card had the right idea in his Ender Saga. When we remember the fallen we should do so truthfully, warts and all…

We should speak for the dead, not of them.