On Friday, when I was waiting for my train to go to Ledbury Poetry Festival, I saw a group of young men in World War I uniforms walk through Euston Station. A silent troop, boots clicking on the floor tiles, such solemn fresh young faces filing down into the Underground. I saw one give a young woman a card and later I learned that these had each soldier’s name, age and place of death on. A simple, heartbreaking memorial.
I well up at every news clip about the Somme centenary, thinking of what my grandfather and all those less lucky young men faced back then. My Yorkshire grandfather was gassed on the Somme, and his one eye would always weep, his tear duct damaged by the mustard gas. But he lived to see the Second World War and died at 97. Those young men going, literally, under ground on Friday were a potent reminder of those who fought in the terrible trenches, who went over the top straight into machine gun fire - wave upon wave of them falling, so many never to get up. This quiet tribute had a profound effect - people turning, noticing, falling silent. I thought about it many times on my journey out of the city.
And yes, I choked up at the sight of those boys at Euston Station, despite knowing they were volunteer actors, not a line of ghosts, not men actually heading for the front. In this divided moment, when the British people have voted to leave a union which I believe has helped keep many nations from conflict for decades, the memories of war, and the sense of waste and sorrow is sharper than ever.