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Sunday, 27 July 2014
Many of the events of history are nearer than we think. Take the first World War, it has always been in the background of my life – stories of relatives who survived and those who didn’t. I’d read the poems and wept over them and Goodbye to All That – by Roert Graves, a great book.
I toured the cemeteries of France, my fascination with the history made more real. July 1st, 1972 we found ourselves, by accident, having a picnic on the front line of the Somme offensive but also on the very anniversary of its start. We all shivered as history clustered around us – the dawn start, by nightfall 20,000 of our soldiers dead. ‘That’s only 56 years ago.” My eldest son had worked out.
“And Ma, only 21 years before you were born” I told him no to be ridiculous, he wasn’t it was true. History is old, history is ages away, but you know, it’s not!
Between the wars, in 1922 my father, got talking to an old man outside a pub in Bourton on the Water. Asked what he did, he replied he was in the navy. “Then this will interest you. You see, my father fought at the Battle of Trafalgar.”
At first my father was cynical but then working out the dates it became clear that it could be true. Dad was born in 1900 so 95 years separated him from the battle. The old man was, it transpired, in his mid-nineties. He would have been born in approx. 1827 so his tale was likely to be true. So I knew a man, who met a man, who was sired by a veteran of Trafalgar.
Now for the story of the ring. In the late 50s I admired a ring worn by my husband’s grandmother who was a very imperious woman. The ring was made of two large pearls, one pink and one black. “Would you like to try it on?” Would I? “It was Marie Antoinette’s.” she announced as if possessing such an object was routine. I too was cynical.
“How do you know it was?” In retrospect this was rather rude of me.
“Because when I was a very young gal, I knew a very old woman whose mother had been lady in waiting to the Queen – it was a present from her.” This was accompanied by a withering look of such ferocity that I vowed never to question anything she said, ever!
I should have asked for her name but even without I think it is true.
Phyll Burgh was born in 1877 so she was separated from the Queen’s death by 84 years. She said she was very young and the gift was from a very old lady -why didn’t I ask how old they both had been? If the Queen’s attendant was young did she marry and become a mother after the execution of Marie Antionette? If so, it is feasible.
And the ring? Was I left it? Sadly no. As she grew older she became very vague and no one knows what happened to it. I just hope that whoever has it knows its story.
If any of you have had these brushes with history, please tell us.