It was a dark morning when I went to visit Auntie Sarah’s grave. I always went once a month. I always took her white flowers. Why? Because she loved white flowers. It didn’t matter what kind of flowers they were, but they had to be white. They could be lilies, roses, snowdrops, anything you cared to name, but they had to be white. She always said it was because, when she got married, she had been ‘with child’ as those ignorant people had called it in those days. In other words she had been pregnant by the man she loved but he had been killed fighting for his country in World War 1. They had been married, but according to my family, to get married in white, whilst knowing she was pregnant would have been the worst thing ever, so poor Aunt Sarah was forced to get married in a long plum velvet suit, trimmed with grey fur and carry a bouquet so big that her condition didn’t show.
Her new husband was called up into the Army where he was killed by the Enemy.
As could be expected, Aunt Sarah was more than distraught and had expected the family to gather around her and help her through her misery, but no. Our family, to this day, preferred not to be embarrassed by anything like this – as they termed it – and turned their backs on her, telling her that she had shamed them and must now make her own way in the world.
With no money, no job, and no home, there was no world for Aunt Sarah to make her way in as far as she was concerned and her body was found floating in the River Thames. As I understood it not one member of my family even went to her funeral. As I became a man, I overheard two members of my family talking about this person known only as ‘Aunt Sarah’ and after much badgering I finally dragged the story out of them.
My reaction was one of something between disgust and revulsion. In the end my Uncle Jimmy who liked his Alcohol a little too much finally told me her body was been buried in a ‘grave’ somewhere or other, but she most definitely didn’t lie with the family.
After searching for what seemed like forever, I found my Aunt’s body in this place called ‘somewhere or other’ and made sure that it was removed and given a proper burial. By this time I had my own money and a temper that my Family wouldn’t dare cross and that’s how I came to visit my Aunt every month with a bunch of white flowers.
As I walked along, a grave worker was down a ‘hole’ he was digging ready for a new incumbent, but the stone was in place complete with the new person’s name and date of birth and death. I’d never seen such a thing before. A gravestone in place with the details of the deceased before the person had already arrived at their last resting place!
The smell of the Lilac’s I was carrying was overwhelming. The most beautiful smell. As I walked toward the man, he stopped and looked at me. He never spoke. Just looked at me. No particular look on his face that made me think anything was wrong or unusual about that day.
Then for some reason, it was as though my feet had taken on a will of their own. I stopped. Suddenly, in front of that Gravestone. The man still stood there. The same look on his face, neither of us moved.
I read the words on the stone.
In Loving of Benjamin Harold Fortescue, Major.
Killed during Operation Overlord in World War Two
6 June 1944
I was Major Benjamin Harold Fortescue, Major. The date the day I visited Aunt Sarah’s grave for the last time in this world, was the First of January 1944. The first day of a New Year. When people had so much hope that this was the year when this dreadful war would be over and I had been given the privilege of knowing it would not be. As I walked away that day, I felt a strange kind of calm. Not the fear of death.
A strange hope inside me that some day, this world would be able to exist in peace.