Memorial Day

Charles Loxton was a small man, no taller than 5’6”, and was born in 1899.  This means that when he fought in the muddy trenches of France during the First World War, he was no older than 17 years old — Delville Wood, where he was wounded, took place in July 1916.

Seventeen years old.  That means he would have been a little over sixteen when he enlisted. In other words, Charles must have lied about his age to join the army — many did, in those days, and recruiting officers winked at the lies.  After all, the meat grinder of the Western Front needed constant replenishment, and whether you died at 17, 18 or 19 made little difference.

Why did he do it?  At the time, propaganda told of how the evil Kaiser Wilhelm was trying to conquer the world, and how evil Huns had raped Belgian nurses after executing whole villages.  Where Charles lived as a young boy, however, the Kaiser was no danger to him, and no German Uhlans were going to set fire to his house, ever.

But Charles lied about his age and joined up because he felt that he was doing the right thing.  That if good men did nothing, evil would most certainly win.

It’s not as though he didn’t know what was coming:  every day, the newspapers would print whole pages of casualty lists, the black borders telling the world that France meant almost certain death.  The verification could be found in all the houses’ windows which had black-crepe-lined photos of young men, killed on the Somme, in Flanders, in Ypres, and at Mons.

He would have seen with his own eyes the men who returned from France, with their missing limbs, shattered faces and shaky voices.  He would have heard stories from other boys about their relatives coming back from France to other towns — either in spirit having died, or else with wounds so terrible that the imagination quailed at their description.

He would have seen the mothers of his friends weeping at the loss of a beloved husband.  Perhaps it had been this man and not his father who had taught him how to fish, or how to shoot, or how to cut (from the branches of a peach tree) a “mik” (the “Y”) for his catapult.

But Charles, a 16-year-old boy, walked out of his home one day and went down to the recruiting center of the small mining town, and joined the Army.

When years later I asked him why he’d done it, he would just shrug, get a faraway look in his blue eyes, and change the subject.  Words like duty, honor, country, I suspect, just embarrassed him. But that didn’t mean he was unaware of them.

So Charles joined the Army, was trained to fight, and went off to France.  He was there for only four months before he was wounded.  During the attack on the German trenches at Delville Wood, he was shot in the shoulder, and as he lay there in the mud, a German soldier speared him in the knee with his bayonet, before himself being shot and killed by another man in Charles’ squad.  At least, I think that’s what happened — I only managed to get the story in bits and pieces over several years.  But the scars on his body were eloquent witnesses to the horror: the ugly cicatrix on his leg, two actually (where the bayonet went in above the knee and out below it), and the star-shaped indentation in his shoulder.

The wounds were serious enough to require over a year’s worth of extensive rehabilitation, and they never really healed properly.  But Charles was eventually passed as fit enough to fight, and back to the trenches he went.  By now it was early 1918 — the Americans were in the war, and tiny, limping Private Charles Loxton was given the job as an officer’s batman: the man who polished the captain’s boots, cleaned his uniform, and heated up the water for his morning shave every day.  It was a menial, and in today’s terms, demeaning job, and Charles fought against it with all his might.  Eventually, the officer relented and released him for further line service, and back to the line he went.

Two months later came the Armistice, and Charles left France for home, by now a grizzled veteran of 19.  Because he had been cleared for trench duty, he was no longer considered to be disabled, and so he did not qualify for a disabled veteran’s pension.

When he got back home, there were no jobs except for one, so he took it.  Charles became, unbelievably, a miner.  His crippled knee still troubled him, but he went to work every day, because he had to earn money to support his mother, by now widowed, and his younger brother John.  The work was dangerous, and every month there’d be some disaster, some catastrophe which would claim the lives of miners.  But Charles and his friends shrugged off the danger, because after the slaughter of the trenches, where life expectancy was measured in days or even hours, a whole month between deaths was a relief.

But he had done his duty, for God, King and country, and he never regretted it.  Not once did he ever say things like “If I’d known what I was getting into, I’d never have done it.”  As far as he was concerned, he’d had no choice — and that instinct to do good, to do the right thing, governed his entire life.

At age 32, Charles married a local beauty half his age.  Elizabeth, or “Betty” as everyone called her, was his pride and joy, and he worshipped her his whole life.  They had five children.

Every morning before going to work, Charles would get up before dawn and make a cup of coffee for Betty and each of the children, putting the coffee on the tables next to their beds.  Then he’d kiss them, and leave for the rock face.  Betty would die from multiple sclerosis, at age 43.

As a young boy, I first remembered Charles as an elderly man, although he was then in his late fifties, by today’s standards only middle-aged.  His war wounds had made him old, and he had difficulty climbing stairs his whole life.  But he was always immaculately dressed, always wore a tie and a hat, and his shoes were polished with such a gloss that you could tell the time in them if you held your watch close.

Charles taught me how to fish, how to cut a good “mik” for my catapult, and watched approvingly as I showed him what a good shot I was with my pellet gun.  No matter how busy he was, he would drop whatever he was doing to help me — he was, without question, the kindest man I’ve ever known.

In 1964, Charles Loxton, my grandfather, died of phthisis, the “miner’s disease” caused by years of accumulated dust in the lungs.  Even on his deathbed in the hospital, I never heard him complain — in fact, I never once heard him complain about anything, ever.  From his hospital bed, all he wanted to hear about was what I had done that day, or how I was doing at school.

When he died, late one night, there was no fuss, no emergency, no noise; he just took one breath, and then no more.  He died as he had lived, quietly and without complaint.

From him, I developed the saying, “The mark of a decent man is not how much he thinks about himself, but how much time he spends thinking about others.”

Charles Loxton thought only about other people his entire life.

In Memoriam

Good Friday

And to all my Christian Readers:  have a Happy Easter, and may all your eggs be tasty (I think  that’s a traditional greeting).

It’s not often we get Easter and Pesach  on the same weekend because of that calendar thing, but here we are.

My best wishes to all of you.


Update:  from Former Bandmate Knob:

Next Year…

To all my Tribe Readers:  have a safe and joyous Pesach, in whatever form you choose to have it in these troubled times.

And bedehr gesocht, once this insanity is over, we can meet next year in Jerusalem or (more likely) at Boomershoot.

Compensation

Being inhabitants of an island or two, the Brits have always been very much a nation of travelers, but even I have to admit some surprise at the extent of it:

Up to a million Britons are STILL stranded abroad scrambling to return home after countries closed their borders

Indeed, even my Longtime Friends the Sorensons were until recently stranded while out of the country, and only just made it onto the last flight back to Britishland.

Now of course, the country they were stranded in was the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, which admittedly does take some of the sting out of it (pics taken by Mrs. Sor):

(There were more pics, but they’re somewhat personal nay even indelicate, with half-naked Sorensons all over the place, so I’m not publishing them here…)

Here’s the beach near their hotel, lest anyone still needs proof of their dire predicament:

I suspect that Mr. Sor’s deepening panic came not from being unable to get back to Blighty but from the prospect of the hotel running out of gin — entirely understandable, of course, as the thought of being marooned Robinson Crusoe-like on an island with no gin… well, I don’t think I need say any more.

But they’re back home, self-isolating in their historic urban residence, and despite a ready supply of gin they’re not at all happy about being there, for some reason:

Note the “social distancing” of their neighbors…

Ungrateful

Here’s an interesting one, and it leaves me curiously conflicted

A millionaire has revealed he refuses to help his struggling parents pay off their mortgage so they can retire because they wouldn’t invest in his fledgling company five years ago.  The unnamed son, believed to be from the UK, explained on Reddit that he started a business in 2015, and his parents refused to invest £100 because they thought it would fail.  However in the last couple of years it’s boomed – but the son, who earns ‘borderline seven figures a year’, remains bitter about his parents’ lack of support.
The son explained he quit his office job, which paid £26,000 a year, in order to start his business in 2015 – when his parents and siblings earned twice or triple what he made.
‘When I opened my business, I asked if they wanted to invest as little as £100 in it, no one did… My entire family thought that my business was going to fail, just like I failed my sixth form,’ he wrote.
However, the company turned out to be a success and the business boomed in 2018 and 2019.
The son wrote: ‘My parents still have around £200,000 in mortgage payments left and are about to retire. Yesterday at a family reunion, my aunt asked why I don’t help them out financially considering I make more in a year than they make in a decade.’
He said he told his aunt he did not want to help because his parents had shown no belief in his venture.
‘I also told her that my parents made more than enough to put aside some money each month towards retirement, but due to their unorganised spending habits they were living pay cheque to pay cheque every month. They were making TRIPLE what I was making when I was an office boy,’ he explained.

Here’s why I’m conflicted.

I myself couldn’t do this to my parents, because parents.  (And if you need me to explain that rationale, you need help.)

On the other hand:  one of my ironclad rules in dealing with people is this:  I never forget an insult, and I never forgive an injury.  I am the world’s best friend to have — I’ll do anything to help a close friend — but screw me over or betray my trust, and there is a good chance that I’ll never speak to you again.

So in that moral context, I can understand  this young guy’s attitude towards people who didn’t help him on his way up, but I can’t forgive it.  And here’s why.

What he seems to have forgotten is that if he’d never have been born, they could probably have paid off their mortgage long before now.  But they had him, raised and nurtured him, and when he’d grown up, they let him go.  All that stuff costs money, lots of it (as any parent knows).

But all that said, I have little sympathy for the parents now, because they had the chance to help their child — for a piffling amount of money — and refused.  The essence of parenthood is to give, and give, and give — sometimes even when you can’t give any more, you still give.  Because it’s your child, that’s why.  Telling him his idea was dumb and he was going to fail (again) was a dick move — and now that he’s turned out for the better, they shouldn’t be surprised by his attitude — because they created it.

He’s angry at them for refusing to support him, and  for insulting him by recalling past failures.  The hurt goes deep, and I quite understand it.  I still couldn’t do what he’s done, because the corollary to being a part of a family is that when you’re an adult, you support your parents — and give, and give, and give — sometimes even when you can’t give anymore.

That’s family, and family is the basic building block of a happy and well-ordered society.

A man stabbed his mother to death, and as she lay dying she saw the knife had turned in his hand and he’d cut himself.  With her last breath she whispered, “Oh my son, bandage thy wound lest thou bleed to death.”

Parenthood.

Boxing Day

…a.k.a. “Thanksgiving, Round 2” in our house — i.e. with the entire family attending.  Only instead of turkey, we go Full English, thus:

Photo credit: Carnivore Style

Which translates into this:

…followed by a South African-style trifle pudding:

…and a cheese plate, in case anyone’s still hungry:

Oh, did I mention the brandy?

See y’all tomorrow.  If I survive, that is.