Thursday, December 24, 2015
But They Know Me....
The Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens' A Christmas Carol took the unreformed financial services professional Scrooge on an unforgettable festive night flight which included a visit to a mining community located upon a barren English moor - three generations of one family joined together in Christmas hymnal despite the manifold physical hardships of their lives:
"What place is this?" asked Scrooge. "A place where miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth" returned the Spirit. "But they know me...See".
Thereafter Scrooge witnesses two lighthouse keepers toasting the celebration of Jesus' birth with grog and further song while aboard a nearby ship the past was also alive and alight that holy night - a shared folk culture, a brotherhood of toil and reflective memories of family and community as lights scoured into the darkness of ceaseless struggle:
They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.
Our national life this Christmas time - as for many years past - remains irreversibly transformed beyond imagination, sanity and worth by vile avarice and a garnering Dickensian social inequality that would have once shamed British culture and civility to the core. Yet today I always remain mindful of some of the singlemost extraordinary hours ever lived on this earth as would directly affect our own country. Indeed two of the three Ulster regiments in a then British Ireland would be engaged in the Christmas Truce of December 1914 - 101 years ago this very night.
At 2030 Central European Time on that Christmas Eve Colonel George Laurie of the Royal Irish Rifles signalled to regimental HQ the following dispatch:
Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs and are wishing us a Happy Christmas. Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions. No shots had been fired since 8pm.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers were also engaged in a truce at New Year near Ploegsteert in Belgium. On 31st December men from the First Battalion in the frontline trenches were approached by a German infantryman under a white flag in No Man's Land. He offered a bottle of Prussian cognac to Captain George Hill and when Hill hesitated the German soldier drunk some himself and encouraged the Irishman that it was "not poison".
The Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers recruited from across the North of Ireland and in British counties that would find themselves on different sides of the border upon the 1921 partition of the island. The Royal Irish Rifles thus recruited in County Louth in what would be located in the future Republic of Ireland, the Royal Irish Fusiliers likewise in Counties Cavan and Monaghan and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in County Donegal.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers in particular would be physically decimated on the first day of the Battle of the Somme with barely sixty of the six hundred advancing soldiers returning to their trenches on the 1st of July. Indeed two of the most famous photographs of all the Great War soldiers from the British Empire relate to the 36th Ulster Division - a picture of a trench raid by the Fusiliers and a study of a group of resting soldiers from the RIR. The deeply serious, pensive and handsome face of the soldier in the middle in particular is unforgettable - his identity and fate unknown.
My own great-grandfather was initially a political soldier in Edward Carson's volunteer army of 1912 and would fly his Union Flag in Belfast from dawn to dusk on the anniversary of the Somme sacrifice. Because of his agnosticism towards Orangeism itself he made sure his West Belfast neighbours on the Shankill understood that the tribute to his fallen comrades on that one day alone stood aside from the broader July celebrations in Belfast to the Glorious Revolution. Such subtleties of national history and cultural identity of course being beyond the pale of comprehension for today's idiot society and media whitewash.
The three North Irish Brigade regiments amalgamated as the Royal Irish Rangers in 1968 and later merged with the Ulster Defence Regiment as the Royal Irish Regiment in 1992. The Royal Irish Fusiliers regimental museum is situated at Armagh in Northern Ireland as of course twenty one years after that peace offering of Stettin Cognac a British Ireland would have long ceased to exist - the Royal Irish Rifles being renamed the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1921 - and Stettin itself would have become part of Poland after Allied air raids in 1944 had destroyed 65% of the city including most of the centre and the port.
The condition of life in Europe twenty one years from now is of course truly inconceivable to any intellect, predication or applied wisdom. Yet amidst this gathering discord there is still time for honest reflection and consideration during this fleeting and magical winter day. That upon our own rich past (including family and friends from times and places gone forever) and our own shared warmth, wit and intelligence here in whatever still passes as home - or what we are culturally yet allowed to acknowledge as such.
After all both the penitent Marley's Ghost and the bloody Fields of Flanders had alike once proclaimed to European mankind that Christ Is Born Today.