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31st August 2021
Where did August go? No sooner it seems we were welcoming August in with its promise of warm days and golden fields and now it’s over!
There have been some golden, sunny days, but there has also been rain, wind, grey skies and a chill in the evening air. We had rain in early August like we have never seen before in summer. Rain that flowed in muddy rivers through the fields and along the tracks of the Somme. This delayed the peak harvest time for our friends the farmers. La Moisson – The Harvest of wheat finished just this week, 20 days later than last year. The farmers say the quality of wheat is not as good because of all the late rain and to expect the price of bread to go up in the autumn as wheat is in such demand. You cannot live here and not connect to the cycle of nature and how the climate affects everything so much. This area of France produces more wheat than any other in France, the land playing such an important role in providing for a nation.
So thank you to the farmers for toiling day and night to bring in the harvest. We would watch the headlights of the harvesters as they toiled up and down Mash Valley in the dark to get it done. Our bread will never taste better than in harvest month.
There is something mesmeric about watching he harvest take place. The unison of man, land and nature. The land giving up its treasures to feed us. So different to 105 years ago when the land was ragged, torn, and blood soaked, absorbing such loss. Now the peace and beauty of this landscape dotted with its scars and memorials has the ability to heal and nurture.
As we ourselves have walked the tracks of the Somme this month, our footsteps took us many times to The Sunken Lane. The rain had turned the Lane to a gravelly river bed in places. We remember the men who sat on its banks awaiting their destiny. Think of The Lancashire Fusiliers and your mind takes you to that shadowy lane where they are fixed in time.
So it seemed appropriate that the poet who inspired us this month is not well known, but he served with The 19th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. Geoffrey Bache Smith, born in 1894 was a good friend of JRR Tolkien, both pupils at King Edward’s School, Birmingham. Their friendship endured. During the war, Geoffrey corresponded with Tolkien, describing the situation in France as an “orgy of death and cruelty”. He arrived at Bouzincourt, where Tolkien was stationed, on 6th July 1916. The friends talked frequently, discussing poetry, the war and the future. In mid-November, Geoffrey’s Battalion was shelled and he was mortally wounded by shrapnel. He died, on 3rd December 1916, aged 22. He is buried in Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery. Tolkien never forgot his old friend. In 1918, Tolkien arranged for the publication of an anthology of Geoffrey’s poetry, “A Spring Harvest”. In addition, he wrote two poems in memory of Geoffrey, entitled “GBS” and “Companions of the Rose”.
This by Geoffrey himself:
“Let us tell Quiet Stories of Kind Eyes”
Let us tell quiet stories of kind eyes
And placid brows where peace and learning sate:
Of misty gardens under evening skies
Where four would walk of old, with steps sedate.
Let’s have no word of all the sweat and blood,
Of all the noise and strife and dust and smoke
(We who have seen Death surging like a flood,
Wave upon wave, that leaped and raced and broke).
Or let’s sit silently, we three together,
Around a wide hearth-fire that’s glowing red,
Giving no thought to all the stormy weather
That flies above the roof-tree overhead.
And he, the fourth, that lies all silently
In some far-distant and untended grave,
Under the shadow of a shattered tree,
Shall leave the company of the hapless brave,
And draw nigh unto us for memory’s sake,
Because a look, a word, a deed, a friend,
Are bound with cords that never a man may break,
Unto his heart for ever, until the end.
So, what else is new or has inspired us this month?