As we approach Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, we often see people wearing knitted, crocheted or felt poppies – small hand crafted items that symbolise so much.
Then, there are wonderful displays like that of the Thirsk Poppy Yarnbombing that seek to remind us of the scale of tragedy and loss the world has suffered in fighting to protect our fundamental freedoms, rights and way of life.
Poignant, one may think, given recent political events at home and abroad. Events that will undoubtedly impact on all of us in some way.
Today, I’d like to share a personal story of courage and endurance that will hopefully put into perspective just how hard fought those freedoms were and how fragile and easy it is to let them go.
I’ve spent some time recently investigating my ancestry and found that my great great-grandfather served in the 14th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during World War I.
Private Joseph Jinks was 57 when he was killed in action in Flanders on April 13th, 1918, leaving a wife, Elizabeth, and 10 children ranging in age from 37 to just nine-years-old.
I discovered that his name is on the wall of the Ploegstreet Memorial at Hainaut, Belgium, built to commemorate more than 11,000 servicemen from the UK and South Africa who paid the ultimate price by giving their lives in the Great War and have no known grave.
To add to the horror, five of Elizabeth’s sons, were also away fighting in France. The eldest, also Joseph, my great-grandfather, was serving in the 3rd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, taking part in movements at Vimy Ridge and Ovillers.
He was injured during the battle of the Somme in July 1916 and spent the remainder of the War, working in a munitions factory for the Armed Forces before being honorably discharged in 1917, being deemed no longer fit for war service. He received the Silver War Badge, Victory Medal, British Medal and Star Medal.
His younger brother, Harry, a member of the 5th Irish Lancers, a cavalry regiment, unsurprisingly suffered from shell shock. At one point he went absent without leave from his regiment and a month later was found and charged with desertion.
Private Harry Jinks was just 19 and facing a trial by Courts Martial. Within the military documents, I found a handwritten letter from his brother, Joseph, pleading his case. In it, he explains that Harry was badly injured in 1915 and “lost his speech.” Joseph goes on to say that Harry “completely went out of his mind.” The horrors he had seen would surely send anyone out of their mind.
Further in the papers, there is a letter from the War Office in London to his regiment, which was stationed at Curragh, stating that all mention of desertion should be erased from his military record and in effect, he was exonerated. I’ve yet to discover what happened to the three other brothers.
That’s just a small sample of one family’s story but there are, of course, millions more like it, just as sad and equally as devastating.
I may offend some by saying what follows, particularly as Baa Baa Brighouse trades all over the world but I wouldn’t be being true to myself or my ancestors if I didn’t.
The political landscape has changed in 2016 to something that I no longer recognise. Post Brexit and post the US election, there are those now that wield great power and threaten the very freedoms that were so bravely fought for, not once but twice and many times over since.
Sacrifices were not made so that hate, intolerance, bigotry, sexism and greed could prevail. So, if you voted for Brexit or for President Elect Donald Trump based on those values, values that appear to be entrenched in certain parts of the media, I urge you to look inside your black hearts and be ashamed. You make a mockery of veterans everywhere, both living and dead. Think on that when you look at your knitted, crocheted or felted poppy.