Were you a soldier come home from the war,
Seeking once again to find
The foetal comfort of a childhood haunt
Whose memory you had carried in your mind?
Was it to ease some fever of the brain
You were drawn into this ancient wood that day,
To carve your initials and the year
Deep into the bark of this great beech?
What demons did you seek to drive away?
Did digging with the sharp blade once again,
Keep you safe and far beyond their reach?
Perhaps it was early in the month of May,
You sought redemption in placid solitude
Delicate bluebells dressing the woodland floor
A pastel incense mist of petals massing.
Or was it deathly, dreary mid November
No song-birds calling
But gently without a sound
The last pale russet leaves
Like mournful salt tears falling,
In soft and sad salute to autumn passing?
Perhaps the hills were virgin white with snow
As you made your solitary way
Those four-score years ago
On a brutal, grinding, harsh December day,
With all the sombre world around
Granite cold and hard as cobbled stone
Sleeping below a marble shroud of ice and frost?
As you wrought, mind focused on the past
Did each sharp movement of your wrist
Remind you of wasted locust years you’d lost
Gouging deep furrows in fields and forests far away
Where reverently you buried
Brave comrade and brave foe,
And carved their names upon a simple cross.
In the woods that surround our home there is an avenue of beech trees which mark the track where over a century ago the Grainger family quarried for road building stones. The track ran from Church Road out onto the land where Holywood golf course is now. One of the holes on the course is named The Quarry. I pass along this track several times each week. On the trunk of one of the trees someone has carved CD 1918. This carving has always stimulated my imagination.
There may be many explanations. Perhaps it was a soldier who had survived the War and on his return home came to the place he most associated with peace and tranquillity. Perhaps the image of that place had helped him retain his sanity among the carnage and destruction. I think that we owe such a debt to those generations who fought or died for us. We have a duty to care for those who returned and cherish lovingly the memory of those who did not.