In Flan­ders Field by Mar­cia J. Lin­gard

It was just a few short miles from home, but it was like an­other world, an­other life­time . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents -

HE should not be there, in the hor­ror of a Flan­ders trench. Like many of his com­rades, he was young. Too young to be see­ing the hor­rors of war first-hand.

In­stead, he should be in the sun-drenched fields of Kent, help­ing to har­vest the ripened corn.

The same sun shone in Flan­ders, and bright red pop­pies swayed in the cool­ing breeze just as they did in the corn­fields of south­ern Eng­land.

The birds still sang their hearts out, but in that war-torn land they were drowned out by the re­lent­less pound­ing of ar­tillery guns.

The sum­mer rain that helped ripen the crops around his vil­lage turned these for­eign fields into an un­end­ing sea of mud, which seemed to seep into ev­ery stitch of uni­form.

He would not have been there at all but for the chal­leng­ing fin­ger of Lord Kitch­ener on the poster in the vil­lage hall.

Your coun­try needs you!

It had prompted a sud­den burst of pa­tri­otic zeal the length and breadth of Bri­tain.

He and his drink­ing cronies at the Ring O’ Bells Inn had rushed to the re­cruit­ing of­fice in the nearby town and en­listed, ready and will­ing to face the en­emy.

Weeks later, af­ter ba­sic train­ing and em­barka­tion leave, the day came for them to go to war.

Moth­ers tear­fully hugged their sons, re­mem­ber­ing them rush­ing down that same coun­try lane on their first day at school, not so long ago.

Fa­thers with sus­pi­ciously moist eyes shook them by the hand, re­al­is­ing for per­haps the first time that their boys were now young men, ready to fight for King and Coun­try.

Young lovers shared a last lin­ger­ing em­brace, and promised to be true.

Then they marched away in their new khaki uni­forms, seen off by al­most the en­tire vil­lage, with bands play­ing and flags flut­ter­ing in the breeze.

If many tears were shed that day by wives, girl­friends and moth­ers, they were proud tears.

And there were words of com­fort to be had.

“Over by Christ­mas!” the pa­pers said. But that hope had proven some­what mis­placed, and still the war dragged on.

He should not be there in Flan­ders. He should be in the cosy lit­tle cot­tage in the Kent coun­try­side, en­joy­ing the first few months of mar­ried life.

Ever since he had first glimpsed her, shyly serv­ing be­hind the counter of her fa­ther’s shop, there had been no-one for him but Dora.

He had courted her with bunches of flow­ers from the hedgerows and had shyly taken tea with her par­ents on Sun­days.

He kissed her on moonlit evenings as they walked in the woods and lanes of the vil­lage, made her prom­ises of eter­nal love, and longed to make her his own.

Al­though she had re­turned his kisses will­ingly enough, she had held her­self back un­til the happy day when he was home on an all-too-short leave, and they mar­ried in the vil­lage church. She had looked beau­ti­ful in a pretty white dress, with a coronet of daisies in her hair.

In her hand she had car­ried a sim­ple bunch of wild flow­ers tied with a white rib­bon.

He was the proud­est man on earth.

Many of those same vil­lagers who had waved the new re­cruits good­bye turned out again to wish the new­ly­weds well, and shared their pro­vi­sions so that the young cou­ple could have a wed­ding break­fast.

Some time later, as their friends feasted and danced the night away, the bride and groom slipped up­stairs to the lov­ingly pre­pared bed­room.

They were so pleased when the farmer he worked for had told them they could rent the small cot­tage near the farm­house, and Dora spent many happy hours clean­ing and scrub­bing, and mak­ing it a com­fort­able home for them to share.

He should have been with her.

In­stead, she stood in the quiet cot­tage gar­den, strain­ing her ears as if to hear across the Chan­nel the low but un­mis­tak­able sound of gun­fire.

She looked down the lane, hop­ing against hope she wouldn’t see the tele­graph boy com­ing with his dreaded en­ve­lope.

She thought about the last let­ter she re­ceived from him, which said very lit­tle ex­cept that he loved her and missed her, and longed to hold her in his arms again.

She hugged that thought to her­self, and tried to for­get the rest of the let­ter, which had men­tioned that they were ex­pect­ing a big push soon.

She did not un­der­stand what he meant by that; she just won­dered what he was hav­ing to en­dure, and prayed for his safe re­turn.

She willed him some­how to know, as she did, that al­ready new life flick­ered within her.

She des­per­ately wished that he was with her, so that he could share her ex­cite­ment, and make plans for their life af­ter this dread­ful war was over.

Such a happy lit­tle fam­ily they would be, in their cosy cot­tage.

She went back in­side and care­fully put a small bunch of wild flow­ers – just like the ones in her wed­ding bou­quet – into a pretty glass vase, be­side a pho­to­graph of a smil­ing young man in khaki.

He was not with her, of course.

Just a few wa­tery miles sep­a­rated the hell on earth that was Flan­ders from the peace­ful English vil­lage that was home, but it was like an­other world, an­other life­time.

He should not be there, where the bright red pop­pies blew among the golden corn; where the sound of bird­song was drowned out by the sound of gun­fire.

He should not be there in the mud of a Flan­ders trench.

But there he was, and there he would stay.

Pri­vate Frank Thomas.

An­other name that would even­tu­ally be care­fully in­scribed on the war memo­rial in the vil­lage church­yard; a war memo­rial where one day she would take her small son, young Frankie, to re­mem­ber.

Where she would one day tell him about his sol­dier fa­ther, and all the other brave young men who had fought and died in a for­eign field.

A war memo­rial where still, to­day, a hun­dred years later, red pop­pies brighten up a grey Novem­ber day, and peo­ple still gather to re­mem­ber, as the haunt­ing notes of the Last Post fade away in the still morn­ing air. ■

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