By the Greengate junction in Plaistow, you’ll find a war memorial recessed into the iron fence of a fine but seemingly derelict Edwardian building. A plaque informs me it’s the former offices of the West Ham Tram Corporation depot, built 1906. Stacked building materials suggest some work has been happening, but not today. It’s all quiet on the building front on 11/11/16.
The memorial is dedicated to the fallen workers of the company during the atrocious events of what we call WWI. The memorial states 1914- 1919 rather than 1918 – the earlier War Memorials give the date of the Treaty of Versailles rather than the laying down of arms. Significantly, it commemorates ‘the European War’, before it became widely known as the ‘Great War’, or the ‘World War’.
Today, I wanted to pay my respects to the soldier-victims of the snake-eyed warmongerers of WWI, and to those who fought tyranny in WWII. All heroes, all sacrificed for something, nothing, and somewhere in between.. But more than anything, I wanted to reflect on a catastrophic year, the events of which could ultimately place humanity on the precipice of another WW..
I take a red rose from a garden, walk to the memorial, and place that single red rose to the side of the poppy wreaths. There are two older chaps, and me. There are over 200,000 people in the London Borough of Newham – more than many cities. But today at 11.00 a.m, three humans congregate to spare a thought for the dead, and reflect on the futility of violence and hate..
Two minutes pass silently except for the sound of traffic. I wonder why the buses do not pause – especially here, at this place..
I’m not sure if my unspoken, unseen sadness is born of the occasion, the events of the week, or the simple fact that these two older chaps are genuinely grateful, with heart-felt words, that someone a couple of generations removed had turned up. Probably the latter.. They tell me about great-uncles and grandfathers’ names on the memorial, and how in the old days there would be hundreds at the memorial at 11.00 on 11/11..
They explain how the names on this memorial were all Drivers.. They had actually driven bus-loads of East London volunteers to the coast, and to the front from the other side of the channel.. Before then signing up themselves.. I can’t help thinking about final journeys, points of departure, and metaphors which my mind can half form, but today I can’t find the words for..
I thank the two chaps for their insight, and we say farewell.. As I turn to leave, a group larger than the one I’ve just been part of watches in puzzlement from the nearby bus-stop..