Episode 17. Both Sides Now.

Both Sides Now

Rows and flows
Of angel hair,
And ice cream
Castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere.
I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun.
They rain and snow on everyone. 
So many things I would have done, 
But clouds got in my way.

(Both Sides Now. Joni Mitchell. 1967)

I chose this song as a comment about the rain preventing the President of the United States of America from honouring the war dead. Especially insulting, when we bear in mind, the horrors those soldiers had to endure. And it’s title, Both Sides Now, also helps us to remember the consequences of war. How no-one ever really wins. We all lose. By now, we should all know, we must listen to each other. None-the-less, life's cycle keeps going. Life always goes on.

I’ve seen the never-ending cycle of life first-hand this week. I was honoured to watch my beautiful little grandson, Elias Lee, forcing his way into the world, holding his ears, on the 5th of November 2018.

To those who are reading this blog from outside the UK, this is Bonfire Night.

Bonfire Night (05/11/1605) is when Guy Fawkes hid in the vaults of The Houses of Parliament in Westminster Palace, to try to blow it up with gunpowder.

So a bonfire baby. A special little soul. I wonder if he’ll be like me? A rebel. A renegade. A fighter. A Black Sheep. He’ll always have an ally in me – no matter what. This of course, applies to all my children and their children.

November is a very emotional month for me. Remembrance Day enables me to think of my grandparents who bravely defended this country, during the Second World War.

I also remember my great, great Uncle Richard Oakley who fought in the First World War with the Irish Regiment, he later became a Chelsea Pensioner.

Uncle Dick, as he was known in the family, along with his brother Frederick Oakly were  prisoners of war. They were kept alive by the compassion and kindness of an old Russian lady called Olga. She risked her life to bring food each day to Uncle Dick and his brother Fred, until they were released.

When the brothers returned home from war, they too saw a baby born. That baby was my grandmother, the brothers insisted she should also be called Olga as a tribute to the wonderful Russian lady who I will never know.

My grandmother Olga, chose to enlist into the British Army at the outbreak of World War II. She joined the South Staffordshire Regiment.

Remembering  the exciting stories Uncles Dick and Fred Oakley told her, my brave tiny nan would finally see something of the world.

So at aged 19, my grandmother Olga, was sent to a gun site in Bristol, where she worked on the predictor machines that told the ‘ack ack’ guns where to shoot, to bring down the Luftwaffe. It’s here in Bristol she met my dashing grandfather, Herbert Victor Cullis, a gunner in the Royal Artillery. 

Grandad was very soon sent to fight in Tunisia, North Africa. He caught a terrible ear infection and had to be operated on in a field hospital in the desert. A field hospital is not anything more than a tent. So perilous was this, I feel truly lucky to have been born.

Every year in November, I sit and quietly remember these amazing souls. In addition it is the anniversary of Olga's birthday on the 9th of November. Except we discovered after she passed away, her actual birthday was on the 14th of November. We never did find out how the confusion arose.

This Remembrance Sunday sees me living in Wales and listening to BBC radio broadcast called 'They Are Gone But They Are Not Silent.'  It features poetry, music and archive of Welsh World War I soldiers to mark the centenary of the armistice.

This broadcast allowed me to remember my Welsh great grandfather, Olga’s father, Samuel Griffiths. I know very little about this man, except he was a blacksmith and he passed away in his early 40s from a lung disease.

I sit here now, knowing I am from a long line of ancestors who battled war, famine, disease. They fought and survived. This makes it very important for me to fight every fight with gratitude, optimism and hope.

Whatever difficulties I ever face, I doubt I will ever have to contend with the horrors, fears and terrible traumas all these wonderful people did. And did it bravely.

The cycle of life keeps turning. For my family it happened because of the unquestioning faith of my grandparents and great-grandparents that we never ever give up. No matter how difficult life becomes, we have faith and we have hope and we have each other.


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