A kiss

 I have a had a lot of emails from people asking “why do you kiss people on the forehead?”

The war to end all wars., though I am not sure that the term Great War is appropriate.

Combined military and civilian casualties was over 40 million — 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. This includes 9.7 million military deaths and about 10 million civilian deaths.

The Allies lost more than 5 million soldiers and had more than 12 million wounded, The Central Powers lost about 4 million soldiers and had about 8.5million wounded.

Which has always made me wonder how we apparently won.

I think it is hard to comprehend the scale of destruction and loss.  On the first day of the Battles of the Somme 60, 000 British troops relieved the French.  By the end of the day there were 20,000 dead and 40,000 injured.

When I was about 24 I was a young Paras officer and  I went to Bradford with Skinny Bob to see his granddad who was dying.  He was a cheerful old bloke with bright eyes and a cheeky wit.  I said something along the lines of how sorry I was to meet him in such circumstances.

“These circumstances” He rasped laughingly “You mean cos I’m dying young un?”

“Well yes” I said awkwardly

He laughed like a bloody drain and then said “How old are you young man”

“twenty three”

“I’ll tell thee summet lad it’s thee I feel sorry for.  I’ve ‘ad me three score and ten plus some and you’re not even a third of the way there and you don’t even know if you’ll make it especially in your job!” he laughed.

Bobs Mum was crying and it was obvious the old boy was on his final approach to his stepping from this life to the next.

“By heck woman will you stop with your wailing, arm not scared o’ dyin I was at the first day of the Somme and I can tell you Hell cannot be any worse than that, besides which I should be meetin up wi me old mates.  I reckon I’ll be well bladdered tonight”

“You were at the Somme” I asked

“Yes I was” he said seriously

“You can tell me to sod off but was it as bad as I think it was.

He looked at me dead in the eye and motioned me to sit down on the side of the bed and held my hand and the twinkle was gone.

“Half-past seven in the morning on the first of July 1916, and the whistles were blowing and the shells were coming over, and it was hell upon earth.  Everybody dashed out of the trenches and everybody was doing the best they could.

It was the machine gun fire that caused all the damage.

It wasn’t the shell fire.

And there were no gaps in the wire emplacements there were just no gaps.

We had to find the best way we could, you see.

The other battalion had come over before us. There were so many dead lying about and it was almost impossible because the other battalion had come over before us. There were so many dead lying about scattered all over the place. I was a member of the 18th West Yorkshires, 2nd Bradford Pals, on that particular day and out of the battalion strength of 800 there were only 147 left at the end of the day.

It was a massacre, they were just wiped out.

No chance at all. It was pure massacre and anybody who says it wasn’t is just telling a pack of bloody lies.

At 8 o’clock the whole brigade, the whole lot, were wiped out in half-an-hour. By the afternoon there were 63,000 casualties, and it all took place in the first hour, just like that.”

He looked at me with horror and tears in his eyes.  I could feel the tears running down my face as I watched this man relive what none of us can imagine.

He held my hand and then said  “You know if a mate thought you were dead he would kiss you on forehead so you might have one last pleasant thought in that hell hole of your mam or wife or whoever” he took my face in both hands and pulled my head down and kissed me on the forehead.

“Make me a promise young man, promise me you wont forget and that you will be a better officer than they had then”

“I will do my best”

“And don’t forget Norm that the little kiss on the head tells the bloke everything is alright even though it might not be.”

I am privileged to have met this man who taught me so much in such a short space of time. I was honoured to have heard a first hand account of that terrible day from somebody who was there.

I have tried to keep my promise and I hope I haven’t let him down.

Its hard to explain really but we kiss the forehead partly to make somebody feel better, partly for them to know you are on their side but also as a mark of respect and remembrance.   If they could do it in the midst of the battle of the Somme so can we.

Does any of that make any sense?  sorry if it doesn’t.

3 Responses to “A kiss”

  1. havingmycake says:

    Again, thank you for sharing x My Grandfather was a young man at Paschendaele and had a gammy leg for the rest of his life from the shrapnel wound he received in his knee. He didnt talk about the War.

    Dont we kiss our children on the forehead in just that way to make them feel better? Im sure someone with knowledge of chi and chakras would say something about cupping the face in your hands and kissing the position of the third eye releasing energies to bring about a feeling of well being. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it does seem to work.

  2. dl says:

    Makes perfect sense, Norm.

    As a race, we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. But let’s hope we never repeat that one.

  3. Sally says:

    That story brought a tear to my eye. It’s certainly comforting to be kissed on the head, and does remind you of being a child…. makes perfect sense….

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