Honouring The Fallen

My mother's heels, dark and sombre though they are, unnerve me. They click on each separate cobble like the rapport of a rifle. It is almost a relief to enter the grassy confines of the cemetery.

A hush falls over the four of us as we begin to wander through the rows of pristine, creamy gravestones. My brother and I detach ourselves from our parents and stroll, side by side, down a row dedicated to Australian and Maori servicemen.

What shocks me most is not the numbers, but rather the sheer youth of the deceased. 18, 19…scarcely a year older than me, most of them. 18, 19…my brother's age. My brother, who has dreamed of being a soldier ever since he can walk. Without quite meaning to, I slip my hand into his and half-bury my face in his shoulder.

"Jonathon," His name comes out as a strangled whisper, "They were so young. So young."

"I know, Cecily. I know," he murmurs, rubbing my shoulder, "It's all right. It's all right."

"John, Cecily. Come on!"

Our parents, impatient as usual, are already waiting by the cemetery gate. Jonathon and I look at each other briefly, then prepare to follow them. As we do so, another grave catches my eye. A Private this time. Of the Middlesex Regiment. He died at 34 years old.

I can't help it. I can't stop myself thinking, "Thank God. At least one of them knew something of life."

Somehow reading my thoughts, Jonathon tightens his hand on mine and leads me to the gate. Upon reaching it, however, I turn back. I cross myself silently, then bow my head.

Beside me, my brother snaps into a salute. He holds it as long as my head is bent. It is our own private ceremony; our personal mark of respect for these men who laid their lives down so bravely; who died for what they believed in; for King and Country.

At last, we can hold it no longer. We come back to ourselves. I raise my head; Jonathon lowers his arm, offering it to me. With a resolved nod, I take it, always knowing that the pain and sorrow in his eyes is reflected in my own.

The two of us tear ourselves away and hurry after our parents, steeling ourselves for the coming onslaught of modern life.