We had to put on our heating last night, sighed Clammie.
We were no longer sitting outside Costamuchamoulah must-seen
cafe. We had to go inside.
The mornings are now distinctly autumnal, I ventured. Have you been
Not yet. Soon it will be Harvest Festival, I suppose.
Clammie looked down at her nails. She didn’t want them to be stained
indelibly with berry juice. The Lady Macbeth look wasn’t one that she
sought to emulate.
Do you remember that Autumn when we visited that lovely little church in
The New Forest? I asked her. The window ledges had been decorated with
pumpkins and the sunlight made them appear aflame, like lanterns.
What church? Do you mean All Saints, Minstead?
Yeah, that’s right. Do you recall how, just as we were about to leave, I
saw that brass plaque on the wall, which commemorated the death of
Lieutenant Smeathman? Its date was the very same one on which we were
visiting the church. The twenty fourth of October, I believe it was.
Oh, that was spooky! I remember. Didn’t you write a poem about it, in
some sort of weird verse form?
I did, but, you know, I was looking for it the other day and I decided to
investigate the life of Smeathman. I discovered that he was called Julian
Missenden and his brother, Cecil, had been killed on the same day, but in
a different location. It was a double tragedy.
Where did you find that out?
It was on a site for Family Historians called The Long, Long Trail. A woman
called Carole Standeven had posted the information that Cecil and Julian
were both killed on the 24th October. Julian had been married in All Saints
on the 1st. They were with the 1st Leicestershire Regiment Battalion and
the 55th Field Co. RE, respectively.
Their poor parents! And Julian’s poor bride!
Yes. She was called Gladys Monia Browne. Their father was a
Captain Lovel Smeathman MC. Julian is commemorated on the Menin
Gate, but he has no known grave.
I wonder what happened to his wife?...Do you still have
a copy of your poem?
Yes, but I may want to revisit it, now that I have more information.
Maybe that will be a different poem. Remind me what you wrote.
(Hants Library and Info Service photograph)
ALL SAINTS’, MINSTEAD (October, 24th 1996)
Wedded for three weeks, returning to ask the Almighty the reason
why she was widowed, she leant on her father’s support; re-traced her steps.
Crossing the deeply eroded threshold, they entered the chancel. Why?
One of the bells was inscribed with the motto: In God is my hope. Now
pillars were tilting; her world was collapsing; the lilies were waxen.
Fires were extinguished in damp parlour pews and the carillons silenced.
Heartrending, harrowing scenes had been witnessed by grave ancient yews,
their bleeding of scarlet arils on the grass, an autumnal stigmata.
Nineteen were lost from this parish alone and their bows, as the Bible,
open at Isaiah said, were completely destroyed and their seed dashed.
He is not here; he is risen: the stained panel seemed to admonish.
Pumpkins, ovoid on the sills, were a tumescent harvest of blessing,
mocking her empty, unburgeoning belly. She steadied herself in
front of the font which was prospectless, void. But today there are christening
flowers in abundance and someone has polished a plaque with his name, so
I am aware of their story; remember Lietenant J. Smeathman:
bridegroom and soldier, who did not return from the war, but whose spirit
tinctures this sacrosanct space and who’s present, though absent in body.
Eighty two years to the day, anniversary not to be feted,
fated to visit this altar of sacrifice, I also falter.
Under the lych gate I notice a coffin could rest on its grooved plinth.
Maybe his bride at her end made a journey again through the archway,
pallbearers trampling confetti- the mulch from an earlier service.
Fastening the gate, contemplating the path, I leave my footprints there.