Photo by Candia Dixon- Stuart
A re-blog from 5/11/16
I visited the church today as I wanted to somehow commemorate five
brothers who were all killed in World War 1. Their youngest brother-
Percy Soul- died of meningitis after the war. He was the sixth son.
Apparently some villagers were annoyed that Mrs Soul received financial
‘compensation’ for her five sons’ deaths in service.
Later she moved to Great Barrington. She had three daughters who must
have been traumatised by the loss of their brothers.
I kept thinking of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, for some reason and I checked
that it was in production when the boys were young. It was. I hope they
were able to enjoy this childish luxury as they ran around the fields,
scratching their names on the beams of a barn. Maybe not, if they were
(Photo by Kim Traynor, 2013. Own work of enamel sign.)
It was freezing cold today. Inside there were wall monuments to others
who had died – centuries before. One girl had only been 19 when she
There was a little trapped wren inside and an aspiring organist who
arrived for a practice. I don’t know how he could have attempted to play
with cold hands!
Anyway, I went home and thought I’d try a villanelle. The rhymes are
limited, but there are 5 tercets- one for each brother, maybe. It ends with
a quatrain, where the rhyme feels a bit anti-climactic. But then, maybe it
suits the content… All ready for Remembrance Day. Let’s Not Forget.
The Lost Souls of Great Rissington
So, she wouldn’t stand for God Save The King,
though all five sons lay down for him and died.
For each life she pocketed a shilling.
The candle in her window kept burning,
watched by a girl who’d never be a bride.
And a mother and three sisters crying
was no salve for the sharpness of Death’s sting.
Over the cow-common, The Windrush sighed
and, in a drawer, telegrams were yellowing.
The candle guttered- a Soul was leaving.
The Roll up yonder couldn’t be denied.
No bugler registered this sibling.
In a village barn there is a carving-
names of hopeful lads which emphasised
desires for immortality. Living
in a peaceful hamlet? No, perishing-
even a twin had no one at his side.
While some entrenched neighbours were gossiping,
lethal as shrapnel and more exacting.
(St John the Baptist Church, Great Rissington
Photo by Jonathan Billinger, 2007)
Robert- gassed at Ypres. Lived to 90s
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Photo- Stephen Sweeney. Titan crane
The trench gaped to receive him at last,
over seventy years since he’d escaped its maw
at Ypres. Other bombshells had been cast:
his daughter’s death at four; her hair as straw-
hued as bales bedded in Picardy barns.
She’d waited for him in the nether tier,
between the pewter Clyde; Kilpatrick tarns –
close to where he’d toiled as an engineer,
in ruts of rusty shipyards, hail or thaw.
I stroked Wilfred, Pip, Squeak in childish awe;
loved the sepia photo of Five Bobs;
marvelled that only one of them came back
to supplement the King’s shilling with jobs,
where the main goal was to avoid ‘the sack.’
It was little better than digging graves.
I used to ask him how he’d survived the gas.
He said he’d run away from its green waves.
I asked him to recount how lads would burn, en masse,
lice from their tunic seams with candle flame,
until they heard shells crack. Then and I unrolled
his trouser leg, amazed he was not lame,
with that lump of shrapnel, which was pure gold,
as a Blighty wound, taking him away
from the Front line, to Palestine.
The cranes, his guard of honour, now gone too.