Tag Archives: testament of youth

A Hundred Years On

exeter 1914

Earlier in the week I watched the extinguishing at the eleventh hour the candle in Westminter Abbey. My own candle in the window of my flat was put out with it, and one trembles and the resonance of the hour and the contemplation of those hundred years. When I started to become interested in the Great War it was still within easy memory, and those whose memories it was were still young (by today’s standards). And now with the last tommy some five years dead and with the passing of the centenary it is indeed becoming history.

Yet I feel there was some drama missed last night. The event was diluted by having actors read out passages instead of service personnel or public servants with real connection to the body of the state, and a prince or princess of the blood should have doused the last candle if royalty is to have any meaning. But most importantly the famous words that inspired the service, and the dimming of the lights across Britain, his words should have been read out by the current Foreign Secretary. Then there would have been resonance.

I post the above picture because I cannot look at it without a tear coming to my eye. They are the undergraduates of Exeter College Oxford, taken in the June of 1914, that glorious summer. And when I look at that picture this mantra runs through my mind: they have no idea what’s coming…they have no idea what’s coming…

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Well, I’m off, he said.

There, am all packed for my spontaneously booked weekend in Provence. During the odiferous ofsted period (see below) I threw my hands up in the air and cried Why am I doing this! What is this for? and I promptly went onto the web and  booked for Marseille; I half fancied Athens but I might do that later, and my Roman history is not strong enough to sustain a visit to the Eternal City: I would end up wandering round wondering when they were going to finish the demolition job.

I am taking Captain Toomey with me: my work during term time on Dragon’s Wood, has been desultory but it has never left my thoughts. Of late when re-reading I find the new chapters plodding, very plodding, in parts, so I am going to take action on an idea that came to me in Provence last summer. It is unexpected and dramatic and by god the book needs it.

So hopefully, this time tomorrow night I shall be in a bar in Marseille, perhaps just off the old port, writing this up on my iPad with perhaps a glass of wine, or pastis, by my side.

But I am also taking Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. I am surprised I have not read it before though I was aware of it on the margins of my radar. You know the context, you know what is going to happen, and suddenly a phrase, a sentence, will leap out from the period prose and have tears running down your cheek … because you know what will happen.

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