Today is Armistice Day. A day on which the lists of names arrayed in marble and stone, on plaques and in books are at the forefront of many people’s thoughts. Names left behind, as Rilke so beautifully puts it, ‘as a child leaves off playing with a broken toy’.
It was whilst standing with my children on Remembrance Sunday, holding my son as we watched the laying of the wreathes on the town’s memorial that I thought of those names and how, once, they had indeed belonged to children.
Jonah Rogers was just 22 years old when he was killed near Ypres in 1915. At the end of his obituary there is a moving passage which reads:
“On Sunday last, at the close of the evening service, the Society Meeting was held, and references to the death of Private Rogers were made by several members of the Church. Private Rogers’s mother is one of the oldest members of the Church. The meeting passed a vote of condolence with the relatives, all present standing in silence.”
There is something about that silence which, almost 100 years on, speaks to me about Jonah. It’s as if one can hear the thoughts of his parents and siblings, remembering their son and brother in years passed; not the man dressed in his uniform, sitting on a chair as he poses in a garden for a photograph, but the boy who played in the garden of Tunnel Bank Cottage, Hafodyrynys.
So whilst we remember the names on lists, like Jonah’s on the Menin Gate above, I want to think of two lists that are altogether different, not least because they contain the names of children – of Jonah aged 7 in 1901 and 17 in 1911.
The census from 1901.
The census from 1911.