In Your Great Loss
The telegrams, black letters on white paper, cold and unassuming, stated their great loss. My Great Grandparents received two war telegrams; one at the end of January in 1915 and the other at the end of May in 1919. Two sons, Peter and Lawrence, dead.
The first great loss was Peter, a Connaught Ranger, 1st Battalion. His was a gallant, respectable death. Maybe they saw Peter’s death as being a noble one? Dying of his injuries at the Battle of Hanna and buried in Basra War Cemetery in Iraq.
Did she wring her apron into a tightly wound ball in her hands? I imagine a mother, involuntarily screaming and crying inconsolably, “This isn’t our war!” she might yell, “This is England’s war!”
Did he pound his tightly clenched fists on the table, rattling delicate china cups on delicate china saucers, and sending his youngest son Dennis, arms wide open, to hide in his mother’s embrace?
“Peter!,” he might wail, head hanging heavily, weighted with anger, disbelief and grief.
“Peter died in battle,” William, his father, might tell people with pride; or, “He shouldn’t have even been there!” the father might tell people in anger; or “Peter, our son is gone forever,” the father might tell people in despair.
Lawrence’s telegram would come after the war, when peace had come and he was heading home. Did they even tell people about Lawrence?
The war was six months over. Peace time had come and the troops were headed home. Lawrence took a train through France, heading back to Ireland. He had fought and survived the Great War. In celebratory moods, the two soldiers in the carriage with him drank wine. They too were heading home to greet their families after a long absence.
Drinking, but not drunk, they said at both inquisitions. On good terms with both men, they said. No fighting or disturbances during the night. Yet Lawrence’s body was found with a blanket thrown over it on the morning of May 27th 1919. Death by suffocation in his sleep, but no foul play the coroner said. Yet this coroner had enough suspicion to call for two inquisitions. Normally, a soldier’s records amounts to three to five pages, Lawrence had 83.
Did Lawrence’s telegram say, “In your great loss,” like Peter’s telegram?
The man whose hands were on Lawrence’s throat as he took his last breath, what was his great loss? Did he live his life remembering he killed many men in the Great War and one man after it with his bare hands? Was his great loss humanity?