Thursday, August 6, 2015

Speak of glory, sing of home

St George, Alston
St. Augustine's, Alston

Nowell Oxland, the son of the vicar of St. Augustine's parish church in Alston, Cumbria, was killed in action in the Gallipoli campaign at Sulva Bay on August 9, 1915.  He is memorialized in the church's painted altar screen, where his face was used as the model for two warrior saints, one of whom appears to be St. George.  

What must it have been like for his father and the other villagers to see Nowell's haloed image as they approached the communion rail each Sunday?

Oxland's memory also lives on in his poetry.  Here is an excerpt from his poem "Outward Bound," written as he was sailing for Gallipoli (verses 1, 4, 7, and 8).  In these verses, he imagines the British troops following the route of ancient warriors, while longing for the English countryside that they may never see again.  

Outward Bound

There's a waterfall I'm leaving
Running down the rocks in foam,
There's a pool for which I'm grieving
Near the water-ouzel's home,
And it's there that I'd be lying
With the heather close at hand,
And the Curlew’s faintly crying
Mid the wastes of Cumberland.
Nowell Oxland

Now the weary guard are sleeping,
Now the great propellers churn,
Now the harbour lights are creeping
Into emptiness astern,
While the sentry wakes and watches
Plunging triangles of light
Where the water leaps and catches
At our escort in the night.

Though the high gods smite and slay us,  
Though we come not whence we go,
As the host of Menelaus*
Came there many years ago;
Yet the selfsame wind shall bear us
From the same departing place
Out across the gulf of Saros
And the peaks of Samothrace.

We shall pass in summer weather, 
We shall come at eventide,
Where the fells stand up together
And all things quiet abide;
Mixed with cloud and wind and river,
Sun-distilled in dew and rain.
One with Cumberland forever
We shall not go forth again.  

The penultimate stanza speaks of glory; the first and the last verses sing of home.  I hope that somewhere in Cumberland today, a walker passes in summer weather and comes at eventide to where "all things quiet abide."  Perhaps he or she will pause to remember the men of the First World War who loved these hills.     
Alston Moor
*The warrior who led the Spartans in the Trojan War (Saros and Samothrace are places in the Aegean associated with the Trojan War).   

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