11th November: Remembrance Day


'My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory.....
All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.,

 Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

My Mum's mother, Alice Burgess was widowed in 1915 when her young husband was killed in a bayonet charge at the Battle of Loos. Her marriage had been difficult, but his death was a disaster. She was left with three small daughters to bring up alone. With a little help from her father she opened a corner shop, and she was fortunate that in 1922 she met and married my Grandfather who adored her for the rest of his life. This is them about 1958.




My other Grandmother, my Dad's mother, Ada Boughen, had five children when her husband volunteered in 1915.  Her marriage was a disaster; her husband was a harsh womaniser who liked to drink. Whilst he was away, Ada fell in love with a kind Sergeant who was billeted on her family, and he fell in love with her. But she wouldn't go away with him, even though he pleaded with her and wanted her children to come too.

'What would I have done if he had been killed?' she said to my Mum once.

She was right. In the terrible winter after the war, her lover died at Archangel in Russia. He and his comrades were sent by a stupid government on a disastrous campaign to assist the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. They had no equipment to combat the Arctic winter and were very poorly led. The mission was a complete fiasco and many brave men died unnecessarily from exposure and influenza.

In 1918 Ada's husband returned and they stayed together until his death in 1961. But after he died she allowed herself the memory of her lost love, and for the first time told the story of her affair to her family.

Here she is at a British Legion Poppy Day event, I guess about 1965.




During the First World War there were terrible food shortages, but Ada was a wonderful manager and is what her children ate when there was nothing in the larder. It's a dish that stems from the British Victorian traditions of Anglo-Indian cookery and it remained one of my Father's favourite dishes all his life. 

Ada made this in a roasting tin. She would have used a proprietary curry powder and fresh coriander would have been a thing unknown...

 Bombay Potatoes with onions

3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
2 medium onions sliced thinly
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 piece fresh ginger about the size of your thumb, peeled and grated
750g bag medium sized parboiled salad potatoes, cut into halves. (I didn't peel them)
1/2 cup stock
1 tomato (optional)
salt and pepper
A small fresh handful of coriander, chopped.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions in half the oil until golden brown. Add the spices and the rest of the oil and cook for a few minutes more. Add the potatoes making sure they are completely coated in the spicy mixture. Add the stock and the chopped tomato. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, then season and stir in the coriander. 


My Dad said they ate this alone or with bread...and they loved it. I usually serve it with a lamb curry with lots of sauce, but we had it this week with a simple piece of cooked salmon laid over the top. A cool raita with it is good too...

Happy the man whose home is still
In Nature's green and peaceful ways;
To wake and hear the birds so loud,
That scream for joy to see the sun
Is shouldering past a sullen cloud.

And we have known those days, when we
Would wait to hear the cuckoo first;
When you and I, with thoughtful mind,
Would help a bird to hide her nest,
For fear of other hands less kind.

But thou, my friend, art lying dead:
War, with its hell-born childishness,
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
The man that loved this England well,
And never left it once before.

'Killed in action' by W.H Davies (1871-1940) 

Written about his friend Edward Thomas (1878-1917)


3 comments:

Pete Thompson said...

That's wonderful, Liz. Very moving. And I never knew about the Bombay Potatoes.

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Oh how very sad, Liz. I've been reading a lot about the social history of WW1 and the aftermath in the last few years, largely because it is only now that my father (who is in his 80s) is telling me about his father who fought in the war. Although my grandfather survived (in fact both my grandfathers survived), there is no doubt that he was affected by his war and so was his family in the aftermath. A big untold story I feel that is only now being talked about. Thank you for sharing.

Liz Woods said...

I think you are totally right. The aftermath of war and its effects on both those who fought and those who survived is an untold story. My Grandfather pictured above, was a farmer and didn't go to the war. His young and dashing brother went instead, then took his own life whilst home on leave...something that his family have lived with ever since.