Photo by Candia
1st Leicstershire Regiment, 55the Field Co. RE, All Saints, arils, Captain Lovel Smeathman MC, chancel, Harvest Festival, Lietenant Smeathman, Long Trail, lych gate, Menin Gate, Minstead, St Mary's Hemel Hempstead, stigmata, The Long, yew
Another re-blog because of its Remembrance Sunday
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.
Since writing this poem I have discovered something even more tragic.
Julian Missenden Smeathman’s brother, Cecil, died on the very same
day. Their father had gained the MC.
There is a memorial window to both brothers in St Mary’s Hemel
Also in stained glass is the quotation: Lovely and pleasant in their lives
and in death they were not divided.
The Fortingall Yew, photo:Wikipaedia
Of course, I said, Pontius Pilate was thought to have been brought up in
Oh, Candia, you’re always making out that Auld Caledonia was-no, is,
The Promised Land. How on earth do you justify that last remark?
Holinshed-Raphael, I said.
Who? (Carrie didn’t study Shakespeare in her degree.)
The chap whose Chronicles was a source that Shakespeare drew on.
Oh yeah. Right. (She’d never heard of him. Raphael, I mean.)
Well, it has been mooted that Pilate’s father was a high ranking member
of a Roman delegation which was sent to negotiate with the Picts. He married
a local girl in Perthshire and fathered young Pilate. Then the young family
returned to Rome.
Well, said Carrie. That’s obviously a load of old rubbish. (She was munching a
hot cross bun.)
What makes you feel you are a better authority than Holinshed?
I felt a little belligerent, as I had denied myself a bun and was irritable
(Well, that is my story, and I am sticking to it as firmly as Holinshed stuck to
his fanciful proposition. Okay, okay, I know he was wrong about so much,
but he just liked to pep things up for the Bard. I agree: Macbeth was probably
a New Age stay-at-home father with a fully-developed feminine side to his
All right, Carrie, I swallowed, why is it a lot of codswallop?
Because I can’t imagine anyone thinking that they could negotiate with a
Pict. Not if you are anything to go by.
Charming, I said. You deserve another poem, my good friend. And yes, I will
have a bun after all. With jam. So there!
Pontius Pilate played under your branches
in Fortingall, it’s alleged, two thousand
years ago, before he would wash his hands
of innocence. Crimson shells of arils
broke out like bloodbeads on a thorned brow
and he trod on golden prickles, so sharp
they pierced his sandals. Rootstock of saplings
for a future planting, you are much more
than three-in-one. Funeral corteges
passed through your hollow trunk more easily
than camels through the eye of a needle.
Later young men trimmed your boughs for longbows.
Ancient churchyard trees abutting the butts
united sacred and secular. In this space,
one rootball bound the dead
of the parish in a communal grave.
Portions of this yew may have been a man
the Governor knew. Memento mori;
toxic and taxil, your lost heartwood rings
defy establishment of your true age.
Christian evergreen; Druidic icon?
You were a linchpin of society
by the lychgate of a newly planted church.
You may stand here when certainties are gone.