DAY SIX: LONDON- SALISBURY PLAINS
Today we would leave London and head west to the Salisbury Plains and the part of the trip which was a new addition to the itinerary, a special visit to a tiny primary school at Sutton Veny. I was looking forward to this as the teacher I had been communicating with, Nicky Barnard, is very passionate about the WW1 story and Australia’s part in the conflict. As we drove through the outskirts of London I asked the kids to be silent as we listened to Flo’s new CD, ‘What Hope’. I didn’t warn Floss I would do this and she was a bit embarrassed about it all however she needs to realize that her music is very much appreciated by all who hear it and it had an emotional impact on all in the bus as we drove. There was total silence from the kids who just before had been laughing and carrying on with their teenage banter and her music set the scene for the start of our commemorative journey. It was a beautiful moment and when the CD finished I spoke to the kids about how lucky we are to have our Connecting Spirits experience enriched by Flo’s creative reflections through song.
En route to Salisbury we had two commemorations by Beth and Jack. Both were quite different but equally moving.
We left London for the English countryside. Everything got smaller and instantly colder. Beth did her first commemoration. It was beautiful.
Beth’s first commemoration was a relative, my grandfather’s cousin at a little village in Surrey with a beautiful old church. There was one lone CWGC headstone – R.G Turner. He enlisted on the 2nd of August two days BEFORE war was declared. He landed on Gallipoli and was shot on the second day. An adventurer, he was stuck in clerical work and so volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps. He received his commission and was about to leave for the front when he crashed on the last training flight, a month after his only brother was killed at Norieul. Rather than have him buried with other victims of training accidents, two elderly cousins took on the bureaucracy to have his body released for burial with his ancestors at Bentley. As Beth started to say her commemoration, she gave me a look that said ‘I’m going to cry my way through it’ which she did.
I commemorated George Turner my first cousin three times removed, who died during training in his “Shorthorn” aeroplane. The commemoration was already quite emotional when it occurred to me that we were in an everyday cemetery and this made George seem more of a person rather than just another soldier.
We left Bentley and headed towards the Salisbury Plains with another commemoration for Frederick Mason. Jack did a good job and it obviously made an impact on him as he stood looking out at the headstones and Cross of Sacrifice long after the others had returned to the bus. This is beautiful country and as we travel through the countryside and villages I have fallen in love with this part of the world.
As I stood observing Beth’s commemoration, I thought about how I would react to mine later on. As the day drew on, it finally got to my commemoration. As I stood there doing it a question ran through my head: Why did all these men die for a country that wasn’t their own? Why did they enlist to fight for England when most of them were born In Australia? The feelings I went through as I stood in that cemetery were of great sadness. The idea that I was the first person to commemorate his grave and doing it on behalf of his direct family, made me feel proud and honoured.
Another new aspect of the tour is visiting Salisbury and Stonehenge. Lunch was in the heart of this beautiful town and we backed it up with a quick visit to Salisbury Cathedral, one that was unplanned. The volunteers at the cathedral just about jumped on us wanting to guide us through and ordinarily this would have been a bonus. Being time poor though it was a bit tricky but they were not to be deterred! So with our enthusiastic guide by our side off we went on the unscheduled tour. Aware of having to allow enough daylight for the remaining commemoration, I diplomatically extricated our group from the zealous guide. I felt a bit awkward as the gentleman was quite delightful but the pressure of our business was on.
We arrived at the cemetery where Frederick Mason was buried and dear Jack was clearly anxious about it all. A big lad with a large heart, he pulled it off well. I like this boy….a quiet gentle fellow and considering I taught his mum Judy back in 1975 when I first started teaching at Meningie, he is even more special to me. At the end he didn’t want to leave the cemetery and I quietly reassured him he could have a much time as he needed. There he was standing so tall, a lone figure in this chilly place. It was an important moment for the lad and it captured what this whole project is all about: these young kids learning about a time and place that is so foreign to their life experience.
On the road again and the final stop was Stonehenge affectionately referred to by Richard as a pile of old rocks! We walked around the ‘old rocks’ in bitterly cold weather. The forecast was for snow across England over the next few days and you could feel it in the air. The wind cut through like a knife and we didn’t spend too much time out in the awful conditions. Back on the warm bus and off we went to our hotel with another wonderful day under our belt. Tomorrow is the Sutton Veny day, one we were all looking forward to.