The best birthday present ever..the forgotten soldiers.

You came home.

In May 2003 a large number of men who served with Lancashire and Cumbria Volunteers, formerly known as reservists of 4KOBR received compulsory call-out notices to serve in Optelic 2 in Basrah as part of the deployment of Queens Lancashire Regiment. They were a jolly bunch of souls from across Cumbria and Lancaster and this was the first time any of them had faced a compulsory call-out to serve in an actively hostile environment. They were given 21 days to sort out their families, their jobs and their affairs before departing from Alexandra Barracks, Lancaster at the end of May.

They served in gruelling heat in and around Basrah Palace and were on duty for a six month active tour. During that time they saw at least one of their officers Captain Dai Jones killed. It was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission but they faced hostilities on a daily basis and there was the constant threat of exploding IED’s. They were “butchers bakers and candlestick makers” and part-time soldiers, and yet they served admirably alongside full-time fully trained army personnel.

Their families back home also survived admirably with little in the way of active support and no garrison to back them up.

There were 2314 reservists called up for Optelic 2, made up of both volunteer reserve forces like LCV and regular reserve forces.

My husband was one of them. He was 41 years old and an HGV driver. We had just moved to the Isle of Man with our two small children.

He missed his children’s first day of school but he came home safe.

For years afterwards, he demonstrated hyper-vigilance but at least he was alive.

He still won’t talk about many of the things he witnessed.

But he came home.

Not everyone did.

They landed safely on Nov 7th (my birthday), and whilst it was another week before we got him home at least we knew he was safe and sound.

Fifteen years ago tomorrow.

He got four days leave- shown in the top photo and saying goodbye again at Ronaldsway Airport.

 

 

Banishing Demons.

He slayed the dragon, the sun shone he wiped the blood from the sword and went on his way.

For her that wasn’t the end of the story though.

She cooked him fried eggs for breakfast, ironed his shirts, darned his socks, plumped his pillows and waited for the debt to be done.

Paid in full – but it never was. She began to wish she had eloped with the dragon or that at the very least the dragon’s breath had scared away her knight in shining armour.

She began to wish she had reclaimed the night without her knight.

She began to wonder what dragon children would have looked like.

Perhaps she already knew-with their curly locks and their churlish charm and the devil may care attitude they had clearly inherited from their father not to mention their charming eyes of blue.

And all he had had to do – was slay the dragon.

 

©Alison Jean Hankinson

Voices of Whittingham….Past lives in an Asylum.

This is again for mental health awareness week. I spent some time today at the archives in Preston. I am currently participating in a local history/arts/creative writing/mental health project. It is based around the Whittingham Asylum at Preston and it aims to give a voice to the lives and stories that played out there. It was a very large Asylum and Preston was very proud of it, there were about 500 staff and often as many as 3000 inpatients.

Whittingham Lives Project.

I have learned a lot in such a few sessions and certainly had some of my own assumptions challenged. The Asylum opened in 1873 and had patients sent there from all over the north-west of England, many of the other Asylums, workhouses, almshouses were already bursting at the seams. It was regarded as a model Asylum and postcards of its external facade were sold as memorabilia. There were extensive gardens where fruit and vegetables were grown and it even had its own orchestra. Underneath this facade still lurked the very real horrors of Victorian poverty and the mental health of a scarred nation. End-stage syphilis was one of the significant causes of the mental and psychotic decline that resulted in many people spending their end of days in the Asylum and in the period of World War 1, both shell-shock and a form of hydrocephalus resulting from the Spanish flu were  responsible for increased demand for spaces and places within the Asylum. The superintendent’s journal from 1873-95 was stark to begin with detailing the very worst events including the frequent dismissals of staff for what can only be described as physical abuse of the inpatients and the frequent outbreaks of scarlatina, diarrhoea and typhoid, whilst rules and regulations resulted in greater detail in later entries, including the deaths from misadventure, poor health and at their own hand.

The Asylum had its own cemetery. People came and went though, it wasn’t always the end of the road and when the photographer that came to capture the newly admitted, those well enough would ask to have images taken to show they were well and recovered to send to their loved ones with the plea to come and take them away.

Today we were considering restraint, emotional, physical and chemical.

I wrote this for Charlotte.

 

In Chains

Into the light, beyond the bands that bind me tight,

Into the dawn, beneath the hands that hold me down,

Into the sunlight, the stench of starch and sulphur stings my eyes

Into the madness, my muddled mind festers in fetid fettered manacles.

Deliver me.

© Alison Jean Hankinson

 

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The day we fell….

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,

We remember them each and everyone, every year, it is our duty

We solemnly speak their names, we treasure their memories in our hallowed halls

We honour their fate on memorials and museum walls.

 

Kick back, flashlight, night flare

We are back there

I do solemnly swear to bring honour and bear witness

To my country but he is missing in action.

tap tap….clack clack…. frack frack

I scour the wall of missing people.

 

©Alison Jean Hankinson

 

First line taken from For the Fallen- by Laurence Binyon. Last line taken from “Leaving time” Jodi Picoult. For Bridging the Gap at d’Verse.

 

Shades of Betty.

It was damask and silk with woven flowers,

Azure, ruby and evergreen on a backdrop of black velveteen.

Her favourite scarf.

 

She wore it like a shawl

skittered, off-centre a-kilter

slightly syncopated in the spirit of her slightly singular eccentricity.

 

Shades of sublime serendipity

Shades of anguish unfurling

Shades of Betty.

 

© Alison Jean Hankinson.

The image is my own. ©Alison Jean Hankinson

 

Tuku Iho

In this house we live year on year

Our lives enriched by treasured trinkets we hold dear.

Each memory good or bad permeates these walls

Each sound of love and cry of pain echoed through these halls.

 

In this house of love we played and plotted undaunted

Our lives enriched by dreams of grandchildren and children wanted.

Each wall on strong foundations built to withstand falls

Each garden flower planted with patience and nurtured with love grows tall.

 

Our house is strong from loving bonds

Our legacy seeps through each foliage frond

Every brick and stone when we grow old

Carries enduring imprint of our souls.

 

©Alison Jean Hankinson

this is for the final day of napowrimo2108

Liminality….

I miss lavender

It attracted the bees and reminded me of home

When home was half a world away and beyond the realms of reality.

 

I miss home still, not a place or sense of belonging

But the physical space that keeps us safe from the rest of the world

The place where it is okay to be nothing to nobody in a non-descript kind of way.

 

I miss being valued and making a contribution that is deemed worthwhile

Beyond the futile measures of a financially strapped world or work.

Where experience, age and wisdom lies currently forgotten alongside dandelion dreams on the kerbside of parsimony.

 

I miss the bright star of hope and the sense of celestial justice

That came from the certainty that there was some unwritten moral code

Whereby staunch steadfast endeavour would be rewarded with reciprocal remuneration.

 

I miss being able to do what I do best

Taking my place in the workforce

Having my tools at my desk to bring the world alive for the future generations.

 

©Alison Jean Hankinson

This is for Day 28 Napowrimo