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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

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