July 16, 2013

'Destroying beauty'

We were in Lincolnshire at the weekend, visiting my husband's grandfather who has just turned 95. A private with the Royal Berkshires in the Second World War, he was shot in France and captured by the Germans, stitched up, then held as a prisoner of war for nearly five years, finally escaping just before the end of the war.

He spent much of his time as a POW working on the land, having lied about his pre-war occupation, saying he was a farmworker rather than a clerk in the hopes of being near food. The labour he was put to was hard, and he wasn't used to it; but the fact that he was not confined entirely to the camps may well have saved his life. When he was put on a 10-week forced 'death march' he was in better condition to withstand it.

Driving back through the flat fenland countryside with its huge skies it felt apt to see the poppies' 'bluish neutral distance' (Larkin) where they 'troubled the cornfields with destroying beauty' (Clare). What was less expected was to find one on our own London street when we finally made it home.

It is a talisman, a reminder of how lucky our generation is not to face war, or know you'll do anything to survive.