Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Joshua Ismay was born close to where I used to work, and grew up in a very nice house in Hudson Avenue, just up the road from where I’m writing this. It’s a quiet street the Duck Noodle Gang drives past everyday as we take Mrs. Caliban to her office, and we think of it as just a few minutes away, which it is if you travel by car. However when Joshua lived there very few people had cars, and the distance would have been considered quite great since it’s almost an hour’s walk over a long hill. In those days people living at our end of the street usually traveled to town by walking in the opposite direction to Joshua’s place, down to the river, from where they rowed or hitched a ride on one of the timber-cutters' barges - the world was very different then.
A little after Joshua was old enough to vote and drink his family moved around the corner, before a shifting again a year or two later to a very fine home close to the supermarket from which we always promise to never buy another thing, on account of them being vastly more expensive than all the other stores around here… but since it’s convenient, and next door to grocer’s with the best fruit and vegetables ever that’s a promise we always find ourselves breaking. So we drive once again past the spot where Joshua’s family finally settled.
Except Joshua never saw either of the houses into which his family moved after leaving Hudson Avenue, because in 1915, when he was about the same age as I was when I worked in a shop that sold guitars and keyboards and amplifiers to rock and roll bands, and I could fit into a pair of jeans that were so tight they had zippers halfway up the legs so you get into them, Joshua enlisted in the A.I.F., and sailed to Cairo on the Euripides. From there he was sent to France, where he was twice wounded in the mud, and where he fought for the Empire in the War To End All Wars.
And in 1918, two months before the slaughter finally ended, a shell landed in Joshua’s trench. His comrades were adamant he'd been killed by the concussion: “there were no wounds externally”. It might even have been true, but soldiers usually said this to their comrades' grieving relatives; in hell showing the smallest of mercies to a man’s family ceases be a sin. The army sent Joshua's belongings back home on a ship called the Gaika: they amounted to one wallet, a Bible, letters, photos, cards, and a signaller’s badge. In 1922 his sister Dorothy collected a plaque the family was given in his memory, and the following year three medals were sent to Joshua’s father.
That’s not much else I know about Joshua. He was a carpenter, from an upper middle-class Congregationalist family, and prior to enlisting had taken out insurance with the Independent Order of Oddfellows Benevolent Society. With whom his mother engaged in a lengthy episode of correspondence while trying to make a claim on his behalf when he was wounded – they don’t appear to have paid, since Joshua was killed before the necessary paperwork arrived from the battlefield hospitals. They did, however, pay out his death benefit, but the amount was small. Young self-employed men don’t expect to die, so the policy had been geared towards protecting his income in the event of contracting an illness.
Nor do young men expect to be forgotten, and Joshua, and the millions like him they have every right to be remembered. Grant us, oh Lord, an end to the evil madness that takes them away from us.
Posted by Alcibiades at 4:38:00 pm