Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Candlelit vigil

We went into Bath last night as we had tickets for the candlelit vigil at the Abbey to mark one hundred years since the start of the First World War.

Everyone lit a candle at the start of the vigil but they were gradually extinguished throughout the hour until one remaining candle was blown out at 11.00pm, the moment that war began on  4th August 1914.
The music was very moving, from Vaughan Williams', 'Kyrie from mass in G minor' to the thundering anthem of 1914, 'For lo, I raise up' by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. We were sitting beyond the choir stalls and were simply overwhelmed and uplifted by the sound of organ and choir. The programme was an excellent, and sobering, selection of words and music. At the end of the service the male members of the choir stood up and walked from the Abbey singing, 'It's a long way to Tipperary" their voices gradually fading into the distance. The female members of the choir remained in the choir stalls singing in counterpoint, 'Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag'.
We left the Abbey in silence into a beautiful, warm, still night.
My relative, William Leishman, was just one of the 880,000 British servicemen who died in the First World War.
There is a statue in London at Paddington railway station dedicated to an unknown soldier. The soldier is reading a letter and people have been asked to put their own words on his blank pages.
The letter that I would write would be to William.
Dear William,

Perhaps you think that now, so long after your death, no one will remember you, but I'm writing to say that it's not the case. It's true that I know only a very little about you, the details that I've found online of your war record and the story that my mother told me of your last journey home. 
When your mother Helen Stuart Leishman, my great-grandmother, was dying,  you were given compassionate leave to visit her. You traveled straight from the battlefields of France to Glasgow but were too late to see your mother. She had died on the 4th of September 1915. The men of the family were at the funeral and, as was the custom of the time, the women remained at home. They washed and fed you and you returned to France and the Battle of Loos where you were killed on the 25th of September.
During the Second World War my mother's elder brother, Robert Leishman, my much-loved Uncle Bob, served as a naval doctor. He also was given compassionate leave to visit his dying mother, Isabella, after whom I am named. But, once again, he arrived too late. Everyone in the family feared that a pattern was to be repeated but happily he returned home safely at the end of the war.

Last night I attended a candlelit vigil at Bath Abbey and I lit my candle in remembrance of you. The choir sang, 'Expectans expectavi'  by Charles Wood, with words by C.H. Sorley. He, like you, was killed at the Battle of Loos, shot in the head by a sniper on the 13th October 1915. He is among 15 other Great War poets commemorated on a stone in the poets' corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on the stone has words from Wilfred Owen,

"My subject is War,
and the pity of War. 
The poetry is in the pity."

Your name is on the Scottish roll of honour as a permanent reminder of our loss.

With love,

Rosemary Isabella.


  1. Replies
    1. As you can imagine, it was hard to keep a dry eye at the Abbey, Wildside.

  2. Oh that is just beautiful! I will remember him now too, and that is how we keep those great sacrifices alive. I have real tears thinking of this story. How beautiful!

    1. Dear Wendy, I am so grateful for your response. I've got no grandchildren to tell my family stories to so I put them on the blog so that they don't entirely disappear. Thank you.

  3. Rosemary, I just seconds ago finished another post on my blog "no Stuff In Heaven" where I speak of my grandfather who also served in WW1. Our worlds continue to collide in internet space.

    Fortunately, unlike your dear relative, my grandfather made it home. Your letter was so special, so inspiring in that we CANNOT forget the sacrifices made by those before us. What an amazing post.

  4. Donna, I'm finding the background stories your 'stuff' very moving and I love the 'collisions' that we experience through blogging . Thank you so much for your response to this post.