Memory Fragments

I had a memory fragment from John’s life today, and it reminded me that I had written down another fragment a few days back and forgot about it:

Circa 1884-1891

I remember a Mr. Trelawney coming to our door one day in Yeovil, saying my father owed him some amount of money (if memory serves it was under ten Shillings). My father insisted he knew nothing about this debt, and Mr. Trelawney came back over the next several days, increasingly agitated. He finally came back with a police constable one day, who threatened my father with arrest if he didn’t pay Mr. Trelawney his money. My father reluctantly agreed to pay and seemed extremely frustrated and tired afterward; this was at a time when even five shillings was a considerable amount of money after all, and I seem to recall I and my brothers and sisters had to help work off that debt to stave off losing our home.

It seems this was fairly common. Random strangers (or people who appeared to us to be random strangers) would often come demanding money from my father. I don’t know if he legitimately gambled the money away, but he seems to have had a reputation with the local police for being a source of bad debt (whether the reputation was earned or not I don’t know, and it seems we were never sure ourselves).

We somehow had enough to keep the house until my father died, and my sister must have come by some money to travel to Australia (as census records show; my memory of that period is hazy), but money was a constant source of stress even for a self-sufficient family like ours.

Late Summer 1914

I recalled that it wasn’t just the recruiting poster outside St. Peter’s church, but a sermon that got me willing to sign up.  Whipped into a religious fervor, just as I had been during the Third Crusade, I volunteered for what I believed would be a holy war. It seems the preacher even mentioned the crusades, and Pope Urban’s declaration “God wills it!” that touched off the First Crusade. It was the most passionate sermon I had ever seen; Church of England is known for more sedate, sober services.

A bit of research does turn up some hints that sermons were used as recruiting tools, and this might explain why I stopped going to church in the early 2000s when the sermons were so blatantly political that I felt our church had lost touch with the needs of its parishioners entirely.

Spring 1915

During a fire fight while at Ypres, a shell buried itself in the ground just in front of the timbers we had shored up the trench with but did not explode. In terror, I ran from the unexploded shell but was greeted by an officer screaming at me and waving his revolver. I finally decided that the shell would be a more merciful and quicker way to go but thankfully, it didn’t explode as I walked back to the breastworks and began firing again.  I was nervous the whole time and my aim was off thanks to knowing that shell was right there, threatening to cave in the trench on top of me. The smell of cordite was strong, so strong it made my nose burn and run, and wiping my nose on the sleeve of my coat only rubbed dirt, grit, and a thousand different kinds of filth right under my nose.

Apparently, burning cordite does have this effect; most of the data available online is related to unburned cordite used in ammunition factories, though.

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