Monday 24 August 2009

Known unto God

Unknown to man but known to God

The grave stone read “A soldier in the 1939-1944 war” at the top, some had the rank, others did not and at the bottom was written “Known unto God”.

Of the 1680 graves of men who perished in Operation Market Garden [1] over a period of 6 days between the 19th of September 1994 and the 25th of September 1944, some 245 carried the epithet of the Unknown Soldier – buried with honour for their service but unknown for all sorts of reasons.

On one tombstone, the inscription started with “Believed to be” it made you wonder when doubt should be removed and the truth be known, but should the truth be known or the situation be left for believers to believe as they will?

Believing might well have been difficult too because one tombstone marked the grave of the chaplain; on such an evil day, where would man have found comfort and succour in their last minutes on earth? With whom would they have left the “Kismet” [2] messages to dearly loved ones back at home?

The root of goodness

We were there - Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery [3] - to visit the grave of someone we never knew but from whom came friends, families and good fortune. The people who lived through the wars of old never talked about how it affected them but we saw the scars as they stoically went about their business without grumble or discontentment.

The lady married to this gallant soldier already had a son by him and her daughter was born the day her father was declared missing, her grandson is my dear friend and for the first time, I finally found opportunity to pay my respects and see why she visited Arnhem every year from 1969 during the memorials up 2005 after which she was too indisposed to visit again.

As we approached the cemetery, it was so unexpected, my friend just burst into tears, I was taken aback, but cemeteries bring a quiet contemplation of serenity and mortality, memories of things past along with things not known the palpable sense of pilgrimage that accompanies knowing that someone from whom you came is rested in a perpetual memorial in a foreign land.

The dear lady died last year and her ashes are scattered where her husband is laid, the only love she knew and it is with poignancy that one recognises that she never remarried but brought up two children on her own.

We must not forget

However, one must not forget that the ravages of war has taken away young men, many not even in their 30s, the register of graves showed the name of the soldier, who the soldier was a son of and if the soldier was married, to whom he was married. Nothing was said of the offspring of the fallen.

In 1951, the British Government signed an undertaking with the government of the Netherlands and therein was established a number of Commonwealth graves as a memorial to our fallen men.

The grounds are well tended and clean, the memorials stand as beacons of great men who gave their lives for king, country and the freedom of mankind in a very dark hour of tyranny and humanity.

As the memorial to the fallen stands, one remembers Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen [4], for therein we find the lines

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

And so we would, we who are left to mourn and pay respects will remember them.


[1] Operation Market Garden - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[2] Kiss me Hardy or Kismet Hardy

[3] Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery

[4] First World - Prose & Poetry - Laurence Binyon:

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