On the First of July, along with others, I was in Huddersfield, the home town of my great uncle, Robert Huntriss Tolson, a thirty-one-year old married employee of Beckett’s Bank, who volunteered and perished with so many other thousands, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, leading his platoon of the Leeds Pals into the maelstrom of machine gun fire.
It was a good commemoration, the names of Huddersfield men were remembered, old soldiers from later conflicts stood tall, school children planted poppies with barley stalks and cornflowers, twenty planted, each to represent a thousand men dead on that awful day, 1st July 1916. The Last Post was sounded and we remembered them, too many of them.
That summer, Robert’s young brother, James Martin Tolson, left school and volunteered despite his grieving father’s pleading. Through 1917 and 1918, he was wounded, later gassed, but again returned to his regiment in France. He died from shrapnel wounds three weeks before the Armistice, aged twenty.
It was thought provoking to look back on that centenary date to consider the actions of our grandfather’s and great uncles, and many grandmothers and great-aunts, who answered the call then, and of their children who answered it again in the Second World War.
Now I am a great-uncle and grandfather, whose youngest generation is at school and at universities. It is awful to contemplate another call to arms that might send them into conflict.