Thursday, 2 December 2010

Alternative History

Good morning, Racers. I have a day off work today, so we can sit around all morning, drinking coffee, if we like. Help yourselves to anything you fancy. Please eat the chocolate biscuits. I am trying to stick to my diet before the Christmas binge and the dark, smooth-talking, irresistible objects of temptation are chuckling at me from the biscuit barrel.

Remember the film 'Sliding Doors'? If anyone hasn't seen it the plot is split into two alternative histories depending on whether the main character catches a train, or not. Human beings are masters of each other's destinies, whether unwittingly or not and every single day we change someone's life. The 'what if' question is one we, as writers, ponder all the time when we are constructing our plots and sub-plots.

On Remembrance Sunday, I took my grandson to the wreath-laying ceremony at the war memorial, and told him all about my grandad, who had fought in the first world war. As we were looking at all the names of the fallen, my grandson asked 'what if your grandad had been killed in the war'. I didn't know how to convey to him the enormity of what he had just said. At five years old he is too young to understand the concept of his entire family's non-existence in the world, let alone his own, had his great, great grandfather, George, been killed in the trenches.

The most recent addition to the Kettering War Memorial is Aiden Howell who was killed in action in Afghanistan. I felt very humbled and small as I stood before his name, engraved forever in stone on the wall of the nearby Art Gallery. At that very moment as the wreath-layers gathered, the Mayor and the MP prepared to lay their wreaths and the deeply moving notes of 'the Last Post' drifted through the still, cold, air I mourned Aiden Howell's lost family - the people who will not exist in this world because of a split second of 'what if'. I was very conscious of a void space in time that should be occupied by his family in the future - his non existent granddaughter, standing before the war memorial with his non-existent five year old great, great grandson.

That moment on Sunday, 14th November has stuck in my mind. I can't stop thinking about it, imagining Rifleman Aiden Howell's lost family, their life stories, their successes and failures, triumphs and disappointments.

It is just so incredibly sad.

So I'm just asking you all to think about all our young men and women, in the prime of their lives, who are giving not only their own lives for our country, but the lives of their future families, too. We are all hugely indebted to them. We owe it to them to make a success of our lives, so theirs were not taken in vain. We have to fight to put the 'Great' back in 'Britain'. We have to make it all worthwhile.

This is not the usual type of post for Novel Racers, but it's one that I feel passionately about. I suspect I shall never forget that moment in my life.

Rest in Peace, Rifleman Howell. I didn't know you, but you are a true hero, just like my grandad was a hundred years ago. The only difference is that you died and Grandad lived. We shall never know your 'what if'.


Leatherdykeuk said...

Well said.

Jenny Beattie said...

What a lovely post. Thanks Annieye.

sheepish said...

Beautifully written and very touching. I am always deeply moved by the terrible losses being suffered in Afghanistan because of my own loss I understand what the families must be going through.

Debs said...

What a touching and beautifully written post.

It's so sad to hear these names of young people being killed and I feel deeply for their families and as you so rightly point out, the families they'll now never have.

Cathy said...

Beautiful post.

HelenMHunt said...

Thanks, Annie. As I think you know, this is a subject close to my heart as well, and I've written a fair bit about my grandfather and the Second World War.

Because my mother was already born when he went to war, I don't have quite the same 'what if'. But I do know that if he had died and I had never had the chance to know him, it would have left a huge hole in my life.

Rowan Coleman said...

A beautiful post. In my old school there was a list of the fallen from both wars. The school had been an orphanage first and then a hospital before it became my local comp, so I don't why the names were there, how they were associated with the building. But quite often I'd read the names, wondering about the faces and live behind. One name in particular stood out, a female name, a girl of twenty called Mary, perhaps she was a nurse on the front line caught up in the fighting. Behind every name on the memorials there is a life not lived and you are so right to remind us that we must never forget that, and we must make sure our children never forget that either.

Karen said...

"What ifs" are great starting points for story writing, but in reality can be quite sobering.

Really thought-provoking post.

Denise said...

Beautiful post Annie and something I've thought about recently after conversations with my Gran. She was telling me about the Blitz (they lived in East London) and the friends and neighbours they lost. Both my parents were born during the Blitz and given the numbers that died around them it's astonishing they survived. Both families evacuated but returned to London because they missed their friends and families and wanted to be with them, despite the bombs. Apparently this was common and something I'd never heard before. An amazing community spirit.

Grandma Bonnie said...

Thanks for following I am now following back.