1871 C R.A.

When I was 10, or maybe 11, my grandfather told me a story. This is how I remember it, although it is probably worn by time and coloured by my own experiences and I am sure have amalgamated snippets of information that came later, but this is what I remember.

My mum took me to visit my grandparents in London. We travelled from Ipswich in Suffolk by train, to Liverpool Street station, where I would stand and stare at the amazing victorian construction of the train shed roofing. I still do, whenever I pass through.

At my grandparents’ house in Lewisham we usually had tea and cakes, served on a two tier cake plate.

I remember how I always looked at the glass case full of matchbox toy cars that my uncle collected. Sometimes he would let me play with them. The Batmobile and the James Bond cars were the best.

My grandfather and I were alone in the dining room during one visit, and suddenly he had tears rolling down his cheeks. I don’t think I had ever seen a grown up cry before. He started to tell me a story.

He was born in 1900 and he lived in the East End of London. When the First World War started, he was 14 years old. By the time he was 15, the war was in full swing and they needed recruits. There were roaming teams of recruiting officers walking the streets of London. He and his friend were excited. War was a big adventure, over by Christmas. They talked to the recruiters, who said you can’t go, you’re too young, but if you walk round the block, and you still want to go, we will turn a blind eye to your age, and sign you up. So they did, and off they went.

I can’t actually remember the details of what he said, I only really remember that he was crying, and that he asked me to promise that I would never fight in a war.

He survived that war, he lived to be 80, he refused to fight in WW2 but opted to be a medical orderly, he kept his hair till he died, but he was white haired by the time he was 18.

When he passed away in 1980, I received his Royal Artillery pocket watch. As far as I know, it is the watch he was given when he served in the army. When I look at the watch I remember the things he told me. I look at the marks and the scratches, the crow’s foot and the numbers and try to imagine how they all got there. I try to imagine the events that this object has witnessed, and the time it has marked.

The watch is inscribed 1871 C, R.A, with the ministry of defence mark, the ‘crow’s foot’ stamped above it.

These images and text were originally put together as a piece for a group show titled and themed Death and Entrances. There is an accompanying hand bound short run edition available.

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© 2022 Simon Last