THE LAST JACK
This month will see the last concert in a long series of ‘Your Ever loving son Jack’, this time at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. ‘Jack’, as he has fondly become known, has been my regular companion since November 2014. He sprung back to life out of an old tin of small, brown, dirty-enveloped letters that had been lovingly stored by my family for a century. He had never been forgotten by us as he had been proudly introduced to each new generation as we came along, but it was only through my collaboration with the pianist Simon Lepper and the performance that we devised, that he was thrust into the limelight.
It seems apt that this long act of remembrance should end in the hot summer, just like Jack’s own earthly life. In the middle of August 1916, a shell exploded above his and other troops’ heads as they were heading away from the front for rest. He was mortally wounded and died in a field hospital the next day. As the war progressed, the land where he was hastily buried was taken by the opposing German forces and it was only in the late 1920s that his body was found and moved to a cemetery. For that intervening period, his mother could never quite believe that her son was dead and supposed that any unexpected knock on the door could be her son Jack coming home.
The last words for now must go to Jack. From a letter from the middle of August 1915 after arriving “within sound of the guns”, he writes home,
Well Mother, we are expecting to go in the trenches in a few days from now. I hope you will excuse this short letter as we are not allowed to say much, so I will close hoping as it finds you all in the best of health as it leaves me the same.
I close with heaps of love from Your Loving Son
(For our Harry xxxxxxx)
Please send me some writing paper and envelopes and a few fags as they are very scarce here. And don’t forget to write soon.
So, goodbye for the present, Jack!
The real, flesh and blood Jack was my great uncle, killed at the age of 20 on the Somme in 1916, but, who, through those letters, lived again and has made many new friends over the last 5 years. It has often struck me over this time as his life-sized image has graced stages in country houses and grand halls, cathedrals and shiny new concert venues, that he has stood in places in death, that he would have had no opportunity to stand in his life. The everyday concerns and joys of just another young man serving his country would have seemed unimportant and trivial in his day, but now, a hundred years later, they most definitely are important, fascinating and deeply touching. Over the passage of 100 years and with hindsight, his concerns have become real and tangible and his memory precious, even as his body and soul are now beyond our grasp.
This surely should give us all pause for thought. Who and what are we missing in our daily lives? What to us now seems unimportant and trivial but really is of infinite value? To whom do we give no regard when they stand before us, merely an inconvenience or just another person to push past in our busyness?