Once in a Lifetime
It will happen once in a lifetime… a lifetime… what is that? For John Condon it was the blink of an eye. You will not know the name, why should you? Let me help you.
If you were to walk through Poelcapelle cemetery situated 10km north east of Ypres and look at the names on the white Portland headstones, you would be staggered by the ages of those British soldiers who died fighting near there in the First World War. There is more. As you approach a shady corner on perfectly manicured lawns you will discover one that will take your breath away and possibly make you want to weep. Here on Row F, Plot 56 surrounded by small wooden crosses that speak of remembrance and sadness you will read the name – Private 6322 John Condon and then you will read his age and then reread it – 14.
He was the youngest soldier to fight and die. To get there he had to lie about his age. It must also be remembered that he was only one of the many hundreds of brave boys who signed up to fight in the war that was thought to be the war to end all wars. John was killed fighting in the Second Battle of Ypres when the Germans used chlorine gas for the first time.
2018 is the centenary of the conclusion of that war, one hundred years since the final shells burst along the many fronts at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Surely on that very day it was a time to rejoice and sing. Sadly not, for what of those fighting on that very day knowing that it was to be over by lunchtime? What of those fighting in the last hour and in those final minutes and those killed before the seconds ticked away to the cessation?
On the 10th November, 2018 I shall be leading a commemoration at Harrogate Library supported by The Harrogate Branch of the Royal British Legion. It is my chance to remember my great uncle, William Hollingdrake who died after years of fighting on 26th September, 1918 and is buried in Bertincourt Chateau Cemetery, France.
The commemoration entitled, ‘The Penultimate Man’ is built around a short story written about the final moments of the war, a love story. I have published the work on Amazon and Nicholas Camm, the voice of the Bennett books, has narrated the audiobook. All author royalties for both these works will be donated to the Poppy Appeal.
The afternoon will comprise songs, sung by Sophie Lawson, traditional poems read by friends and original stories by Rob Ashman, Ruth Wade and myself. Nicholas will read in full, ‘The Penultimate Man’ to an audience of 100. Each ticket sold, one for each year since the conclusion, will be dedicated to one of the fallen from the war. Tickets are priced at £5 and will be available from Harrogate Library and Imagined Things Bookshop, Harrogate.
For once in a lifetime I have an opportunity to remember those whose lives were cut far too short. I hope in some small way you will take a moment to remember them also. If you are near to Harrogate on Saturday 10th November it would be wonderful to share this special time with you.