What else would three young fellows do with themselves in Ypres of a sunny Saturday afternoon than hire out some bicycles and go for a trip out around the Salient? Shane had a couple of names on his Galway honour roll buried in a few of the fields and wanted to take some pictures of their stones, so Frank and I went along for the exercise and the scenery. It was a beautiful day and the million miles or so that we cycled felt much worse than it really was, but we made sure to have some fun along the way. According to Shane the ultimate destination of our trip was the largest of all the Salient cemeteries – that of Tyne Cot on the slope leading to Passchendaele. All that I knew of Tyne Cot was that it is the final resting place of my great-grand-uncle Jim Reid. Old stories from home had it that Jim, my grandmother’s father’s brother, along with Tom and Bill – his brothers – went off to fight in France and that he and Tom never came home. With all my dabbling in family history over the past few years I have not been able to locate the whereabouts of Tom, but Jim was somewhere in Tyne Cot, and now I was right where he was. He was buried somewhere among 11,954 of his comrades, and finding him took a fair bit of work – and walking.
I’m not going to pretend to be sentimental over relatives who died almost a hundred years ago, even if they passed in a war we were always taught to be sentimental about, but sitting by his grave I couldn’t help but feel something. He was twenty-nine, came from an Ayrshire family of coal miners, and died far from his family in no-mans-land. The poor lad probably, certainly as a conscript, didn’t know why he was even over there in the first place. I wondered what he would have thought if he knew that the people who sent him to his death sent more kids like him to die just twenty-four years later. All that made me sad. It made me sad too to think that perhaps he is completely forgotten. I know that I haven’t thought about him much. Why would anyone else? Lest we forget?! Acht, I think that most of our remembering is only for show, and to convince ourselves that the murder of war is somehow worth something. Lest we forget?! We’ve made a point of forgetting, and the soldiers fighting all around the world today are proof enough of that. Poor Jim! I left him a poppy cross with a white poppy for peace, and was consoled to read the inscription his folks had engraved on his stone a century ago; “Peace Perfect Peace.”