The Last Post?

Having just posted up the last entry covering the 11th DLI Battalion War Diary, it might be thought that that was the end of the story. Not quite. It is time now to shift the emphasis away from recording the events of 100 years ago. In future posts I want to look at the way 11th DLI, the men and their families and communities were and still are remembered. Some of this will cover official commemoration, but mostly it will be about personal and family memories.

Perhaps it is best to start closest to home with myself. As a child I was aware that my grandfather had died in the First World War. I was very young when my sisters took me to the parade and ceremony at Darlington Memorial Hospital on Remembrance Sunday one year. It was all a bit confusing. I was lifted up to look at what I thought was his name in a book – but having visited the Memorial Hall more recently I now know that what I was looking at was the Memorial Book for the Second World War and the name was my sisters’ father, Joe Hinnigan, killed in the first week of WW2 in a freak accident. Our family is complicated by a number of early parental deaths. My grandfather’s name, Thomas Bashforth, was on one of the walls round the hall – wall after wall after wall. Most of all I remember the parade, the bands and all the people in uniforms with medals. That’s what boys tend to like.

More importantly I remember that while I was growing up neither of my parents ever bought or wore a remembrance poppy, though they never really explained why. My father had never seen his own father. My mother had lost her first husband. Both had reasons to be angry, rather than to share in some ‘one size fits all’ official form of remembrance of ‘our glorious dead’. It wasn’t that they were disrespectful – my Dad lost friends in WW2 and had a rough time himself escaping from Dunkirk in 1940 and Italy in 1943. Later in life they relented somewhat and watched the national march past on television every year – at least Mam did, while Dad was down the yard in his shed where he kept his own private mementoes (as I found out after he died).

Their reluctance to wear the poppy, I inherited. At school in my teens however I was not given the choice of whether or not to wear one. It was compulsory, as was the annual remembrance day service in the school hall. As a protest the rebels among us took to wearing a CND badge in the middle of the poppy replacing the plastic centre with its reference to the Haig Fund and the man we considered the butcher of the killing fields of France and Flanders. What I did not realize then was that, up at the top of the school hall behind the platform, on the massive wall plaques listing the ‘Old Boys’, were two men who had served as officers alongside my grandfather and may even have known him personally.

My attitudes changed later in life, largely as a result of researching the book and corresponding with other descendants of 11th DLI men. I can remember being challenged once for not buying a poppy and replying that my family had given enough already. I would not do that now, though I still cannot abide the formal parades and the pomp and ceremony. Now I tend to think of the private grief of my Gran when she got the news her beloved husband was dead, and her brother-in-law on the same day at another part of the line. I think of how she would have nursed that grief for years afterwards. I think of all the other widows and fatherless children, then and since. I wear the poppy, but keep my own counsel. There are too many hypocritical politicians out there only too pleased to dress themselves up as ‘great war leaders’. There are better things to spend tax payers’ money on than nuclear bombs to make politicians feel important on the international stage.

So, this will not be the last post. The Last Post on the last war has not yet sounded. May it be soon.


May to June 1919

In May the remnants of 11th DLI left Grenas to arrive at Pas en Artois on Saturday, 10 May. Five more men had gone off to Rouen on 5 May to join 63 POW Company (and another on 26 May), while on 9 May Captain GP Baines and five more men left for the demobilisation centre at Candas. They hadn’t quite finished with Grenas however – there was still plenty of clearing up to do, especially the enjoyable task of filling in the latrines. Hopefully some of those involved in that were among the 20 men who were accompanied by an officer for a day’s outing in Amiens on 16 May. Otherwise, after settling in at Pas it was more cleaning of equipment and especially the wagons parked at Mondecourt with the Divisional transport.

June 3 was given over as a holiday in celebration of King George V’s birthday. On Whit Monday, another holiday, 2nd Lt G Phillips and 28 remaining men set off for the demobilisation centre, leaving only a Unit Guard detail, who were sent off next day to guard the battalion equipment at Mondecourt. The last cadre was getting ready to head back for the UK, with material being marked up for its destination as ‘Aintree NC’. All was ready for leaving on 16 June but for a derailment at Mondecourt, so they finally set off on 18 June. Shuttled between Le Havre and Harfleur, the men and equipment finally embarked on 23 June, arriving in Southampton the next day. Lt Col Carlisle was able to sign off his last monthly battalion war diary. Apart from the laying up of colours in Durham Cathedral, the 11th Durham Light Infantry (Pioneers) was no more – except in memories.