Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Young Soldier - In Memorium

Reading today that eighteen year old Rifleman James Backhouse was about to return home when he was one of the five soldiers killed in Helmand Province on Friday cast my mind off to Wilfred Owen. Owen the First World War soldier and poet was killed in the Battle of Sambre on 4 November 1918, a week later that war ended on Armistice Day.

Of course Rifleman Backhouse and other nine in the last fortnight who have lost their lives may not have been reaching the end of their days of war. At eighteen if he’d survived he would have faced several more tours in whichever war zone the 2nd Battalion of the Rifles found themselves. However, he was close to some much needed reprieve of the ravages of war. Some time with his loved ones in the normality of life.

You may know that Owen was sent away from the front with shell shock but Scottish, and indeed other, readers may not know that his recuperation took place in Edinburgh at Craiglockhart War Hospital. Here it was that a chance meeting with Siegfried Sassoon which shaped some of his later work. However, after recovery of course he was back at the front from where news of his death only reached his mother as the Armistice was being declared.

However, as the unfortunate soldiers in Antrim learnt, earlier in the year, life in a DMZ isn’t always a more secure place than facing the daily dangers of the job you have trained for. For them it was the eve of departure to the war zone for Backhouse almost the eve of returning. War is no respecter of anyone’s own personal timetable. Many on the D-Day beaches fell to the first angry fire they had ever encountered.

The Telegraph today also published excerpts of the all too short journal of Lieutenant Mark Evison who was killed four short weeks after his arrival in Helmand. In it he say:

'It is disgraceful to send a platoon into a very dangerous area with two weeks' water and food and one team medics pack. Injuries will be sustained which I will not be able to treat and deaths could occur which could have been stopped. We are walking on a tightrope and from what it seems here are likely to fall unless drastic measures are undertaken.'

So in honour of Rifleman Backhouse and Lieutenant Evision and all the soldiers, young and old, who have lost their lives here is Wilfred’s poem The Young Soldier as a reminder of the absurdity at times of war.

It is not death
Without hereafter
To one in dearth
Of life and its laughter,
Nor the sweet murder
Dealt slow and even
Unto the martyr
Smiling at heaven:
It is the smile
Faint as a (waning) myth,
Faint, and exceeding small
On a boy's murdered mouth.

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