My Grandfather's War
He fought in the Second or Third Battle of Gaza; afterwards he took a photograph of a disabled Mark 1 tank:
At one point he photographed Bedouin arms - flintlock rifles and pistols - abandoned, according to the writing on the back, in Gares Abud (possibly the village of Aboud):
And he was present at or shortly after the liberation of Jerusalem. Here's a photograph of Bab al-Amud, the Damascus Gate:
He was a Victorian, born before the first aeroplane flight in a shepherd's cottage on the Sussex Downs, one of eighteen children. And around the age of twenty he was taking part in a battle with tanks, and soon afterwards saw Jerusalem, then still largely contained within those walls without which, according to a hymn he must have sung in church, was that faraway green hill. But let's not romanticise his war too much. In May 1918, his regiment moved to France, and was involved in the Battle of the Somme of 1918. And it was there, or soon afterwards, that he was taken prisoner, and spent the rest of the war in forced labour.
I'm vague about most details of his war service because he never talked about it. It marked him for the rest of his life: he was a taciturn, solitary man, and spent much of his time working alone, as a gardener. It marked his wife, my grandmother too, and their children, my uncle and my mother (who because of my father's war service had a deep interest in Lawrence of Arabia, but that's another story). Wars cast long shadows. But on this day I like to remember him pottering in his vegetable patch, in the green shade of a peaceful summer evening of the long ago. I like to think that digging was a kind of assertion. Not of victory, because that's too strong a word, too loaded, but of nothing more than his survival of history.