Dear Uncle George,
As I stood at our local war memorial this past Remembrance Day and thought of you, the old nursery rhyme "Georgy Porgy pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry" floated into my head. Not irreverently, but fondly, for when I was a child you were known to me as Uncle Porgy.
We never met of course, for you were killed in Flanders Field six years before I was born, but you have always been part of my life. This, thanks to someone dear to you who had the foresight to commission that fine pencil drawing of you before you left for the front – captured for posterity sitting astride your sturdy horse in the uniform of a cavalry private – a picture from my childhood home that eventually came to live with me in Canada.
The twinkle in your eye tells me you would have been a fun uncle for the little girl, named Patricia, after you, to know. You could have taught me to ride, for you were a fine horseman. We might also have shared your love of music.
When, under weeping skies, my husband and I laid a rose at your gravesite in Tynecot Cemetery in Belgium, we wept too, for all the might-have-beens, not only in your life, but in the lives of the thousands of young men who lay buried around you.
In the same year that you were killed, 1917, the English scholar J.M. Edmonds wrote a deeply moving epitaph that has come to rest on war memorials around the world.
These four lines speak so succinctly from the dead and dying to the living:
WHEN YOU GO HOME
TELL THEM OF US AND SAY
FOR YOUR TO-MORROW
WE GAVE OUR TO-DAY
Tonight I honour the gift of your life for my tomorrow.
Affectionately, your niece,