Sunday, 9 August 2009
So after cycling for four miles around the village up the road early today I met the minister of the old church. I say old as most of the folks are indeed old. You can tell something about a church by the bible version they use, here it is the Authorised Version, you know the 'Dossers Bible,' 'Dost this' and 'Dost that.' Well a while back he told me he had buried half his congregation and having met him again I thought I would look in. The first thing noticeable was they way he has been going through the rest of his members! About twenty four folks there I reckoned, and four were children. This is a building capable of holding several hundred!
The music was a wee bit slow as his wife has to play the organ and while capable she has no professional training. The hymns tend to be six or seven verses and with chorus's this could take a while to get through! However these folk have come regularly, for many years, and worship their God! The lack of numbers, mad worse by holidays and sickness, about a dozen members are dying slowly at home, was unfortunate but the man speaks very well. I have visited several times and see him as the star of the show! A man no longer young who feels that he is called to serve these folk, which he does in spite of his own faulty heart. This is what a 'calling' and a 'ministry' are all about! Not much glamour, many problems, and too many funerals, but they persevere as they think right. Naturally this canny man is a Scotsman, but I suppose you will have realised a man as noble as this must be. His talks last a mere fifteen to twenty minutes, longer may put too much strain on the old folks, and are always from the head and the heart. A knowledgeable man in the ways of the world, a Glasgow birth ensures that, and knowing his God ensure he does not compromise his words and tells the truth as he ought. This is the type of man who should be doing those five minute 'Thought for the Day' programme on Radio 4 each morning. The secular liberals would not allow this of course, they would be found out! A good morning all round, especially as the sun has shone, the sky is still blue and my knees do not ache as I expected.
Recently Harry Patch died, he was called the 'last fighting Tommy.' Earlier this evening they repeated a programme featuring him alongside several other aged veterans, all but one of whom have now passed away, and they included one Alfred Anderson. Alfred died in 2005 and I had not realised he was in fact the last member of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that crossed into France when war broke out in August 1914. The last member of the generation that went into a war none could have expected and so few returned unscathed from.
Serving int the 5th Black Watch, a Territorial Battalion, which he joined just because this gave him a week off from his fathers work, he was the first to volunteer for active service when required to do so during the annual summer camp near Perth. He volunteered first simply because of the alphabetical order in which the names were read out, and was probably too much of a man in that company to decline! Quietly sent off through deserted streets early in the morning the regiment soon found itself in France.
By 1915 Anderson had become used to trench life, and corpses. However as his father was part time undertaker these were not so strange for him. Later he found himself batman to Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, the brother of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This officer was killed in the opening stage of the battle of Loos on September 25 1915. During 1916 while returning from manning a listening post in 'No Man's Land' a shell burst almost immediately overhead. Anderson received a severe wound in his neck by shrapnel and was removed to an improvised hospital in Norfolk. His active war was over! A training sergeant position for him until hostilities ceased.
Sadly amongst those killed by this explosion was his close friend, and Alfred had been 'friendly' with his sister. On leave he went to offer condolences and was refused admission. They were angry that he had survived and their brother had died. Spurned rudely he left them never to return.
Alfred Anderson died in November 2005 aged 109, and is thought to have been Scotland's oldest man. He was the last known holder of the 'Mons Star,' a medal given to men who belonged to the “Contemptible little Army” and saw action at the Battle of Mons in August 1914. Folk like Alfred Anderson never forgot, and rarely mentioned, their experiences. Today 'our boys' as the press like to call them, are enduring a war and its cost that they too will never forget. What is the bet they will be ignored until their hundredth year in similar manner to Anderson and his