Written after a trip to the war cemeteries at Ypres. If anyone wants to use it in an act of remembrance, feel free, but please don't make money from it, unless you give it to an armed services charity.
KNOWN TO GOD
They seemed to go on forever. Little splashes of pure white on a lush green that rose and fell, rose and fell as far as the eye could see. The sheer scale of it overwhelmed me. It brought the sting of tears and a heavy heart.
There were so many.
I didn’t know any of them. I don’t have a relative or family friend here. But in a way, they were all my relatives. All my friends.
I walked slowly along the nearest row of crosses, reading the inscriptions. Some had names and regimental badges carved into them. Here a Sergeant slept beside a Private, who rested easily beside his Lieutenant. All of equal rank now. Every one of them of great worth to me.
Some headstones told their ages:
Forty two years. Did he have a wife waiting at home, anxious for news? Children who treasured memories of rough and tumble with Daddy on the green? Grandchildren to bounce on his knee?
Twenty one years. Just come of age, a lifetime ahead. A sweetheart, making plans for a wedding that never happened?
Eighteen years. Was this a spotty youth with a sullen lip that curled down when his mother called?
Fifteen years. A child! He should have been at home, chasing friends and shouting, “You’re it!” before running off for tea.
There were five men beneath one headstone. Three beneath the next. Eight men, huddled together for eternity in a space no bigger than a fox hole.
The next cross carried no regimental badge. No name for living fingers to trace. It said simply, “A soldier, known to God”.
Who mourned him? Who sat at home, waiting, wondering, hoping when hope was no longer an option? Did someone grow old watching the lane that maybe, just maybe, he would yet walk along?
“Known to God.”
I’d read about the place. The battle. The slaughter. I learned it in school, saw it re-enacted on TV. But nothing could have prepared me for this. I passed through the ranks of this company of crosses and became one with these uncredited men who had given their all. For me. A person not born when these lives were laid down. A person of no consequence to them. But they were willing to march into hell. For me.
“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
But there IS a greater love. It is the love of a man who will lay down his life, not just for his friends but for those who are not his friends: his rivals, his enemies, people he has never even met. That was the love these men showed, here, in Flanders’ Fields.
I looked down at the cross once more.
“Known to God.”
“Thank you,” I whispered.