Grandpa and his horse did us proud . . .

Rochdale Observer - - THE LAUGHING BADGER -

AS one more cen­te­nary of the so-called Great War is played out in the press and across all types of me­dia I re­mem­ber again, and very fondly, my Grandpa, Wil­liam Wood.

In 1918 he had al­ready sad­dled his horse for the last time, stowed his lance and pol­ished his brasses, the day-to-day stuff you would ex­pect of a horse­man. He once told me that rid­ing into war was far from his mind dur­ing his train­ing.

How­ever, ev­ery­thing changed when the First World War kicked off and both Will and his horse, Floss, boarded a troop ship and headed for France.

He never spoke much about the car­nage and his sto­ries cen­tred on the fu­til­ity of send­ing horses into this ‘new kind’ of war, his ef­forts to look af­ter Floss and how he was fas­ci­nated by the coun­try­side and the wildlife in it.

He was es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in how the land could heal it­self and that the an­i­mals could carry on their lives in spite of the war rag­ing all around them.

He was a coun­try­man, like me, my dad and my sons and his eyes and ears were awake to the sounds and smells, some fa­mil­iar, some ex­otic; the birds, trees, but­ter­flies and the flow­ers of Flan­ders fields.

I loved the sto­ries of his marches through Bel­gium and France and it was dur­ing these con­ver­sa­tions that his love of the nat­u­ral world shone through.

In and around the Somme, he spent many weeks wait­ing ‘be­hind the lines,’ al­ways ready at a mo­ment’s no­tice to be called for­ward and it was dur­ing this time that his horse, Floss, was req­ui­si­tioned for other du­ties. Un­like the horse in Mor­purgo’s, ‘Warhorse,’ Floss was spared the rigours of haul­ing canon and she was used for car­ry­ing mail to the front.

Grandpa talked about drag­on­flies on the marshes, swal­lows catch­ing in­sects above the wa­ter and the splash of wa­ter voles as they dived be­neath the mar­gin wil­low and wa­ter cress; whether they drowned out the dis­tant sound of gun-fire and bomb blasts is an­other thing.

He joked that they were given no spoons in their field kit, so they had to shoot spoon­bills and use their bill to eat soup; I think he was jok­ing but, he also said that the abun­dance of ducks and the like of storks, bit­terns and herons, meant that they never went hun­gry and that part of the tale is very likely to be true.

With a bit of re­search I believe he was some­where in the re­gion of the Cavins Marshes, half­way up the Somme River Es­tu­ary, an area where salt wa­ter meets fresh. It was here a cen­tury ago that sheep grazed on the salt marsh, as they still do to­day and a tick on my bucket-list is to sam­ple the meat of this par­tic­u­lar an­i­mal as my Grandpa, a butcher for 50 years, once said, “We man­aged to nab a cou­ple of the sheep that fed on the brack­ish la­goons; it was the finest meat I’ve ever tasted”, and that rec­om­men­da­tion is good enough for me.

He made it back from France, but didn’t have much time to re­lax and was soon packed off to Ire­land some­time af­ter the Easter Ris­ing.

I have a post­card which he sent to his Brother from Dublin, de­pict­ing the dam­age to O’Con­nell Street, and thereby starts an­other story.

All these years later, both my Dad and Grandpa have long gone but life goes on as in the Somme Marshes and I am now a grandpa my­self, to the beau­ti­ful Or­laith Edna Wood and Erin Mary, daugh­ters of my son Cu­lain and part­ner Chloe. Grandpa Sean, it’s got a nice ring to it.

●●Sean Wood’s grandpa, Wil­liam Wood, who fought in the First World War

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