Monday, August 4, 2014

Benjamin Aldridge 1884--1918

Today seems like a suitable day to write about my great-grandfather, Benjamin Aldridge, who died in the first world war, aged 32, leaving a widow and four small children.  The eldest of these was my grandmother, Amy Evelyn Aldridge.

I don't actually know when he was recruited into the army.  He was a grocer's porter, a job which probably didn't pay very much, and which can't have been very much of a preparation for the horrors of trench warfare at the beginning of the 20th century.  He seems to have been a quiet man, and a loving father, and worried about his children in his absence.

He had good reason to worry; my great grandmother was apparently so horrible a mother that her children still had nightmares about her into their 80s.  My grandmother bore the scars of some of the things which were done to her - she had boiling porridge thrown over her and various things including knives thrown at her. 

I can't tell if my great grandmother was a horrible child who became a horrible woman and then a horrible mother, I don't know.  She had already lost a brother in the war before her husband died, and maybe the uncertainty and the difficulty of managing a family without her husband changed her for the worse. great grandfather Benjamin Aldridge was called up and was in the Royal Garrison Artillery.  He didn't win any medals, and he has no known grave, just his name inscribed upon the Thiepval memorial in France.  My grandmother knew his army number off by heart, and also a far number of poems, including the one by Rupert Brooke which summed up her father's fate, The Soldier:

IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less,
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

She could recite the poem, and it spoke to her of her father.  He wrote to her to keep herself quiet and then never came home.  Shortly after her tenth birthday he was killed.  Like so many others in that brutal conflict, I don't expect he knew what he was fighting for or against, nor why he had to die.  It's not something I can understand either.

At 10pm we will shut off our lights, light candles and remember him.  They hoped they were fighting the war to end all wars.  It's still my hope that Man can learn to stop fighting.  The evidence doesn't look good at the moment.