Sussex Downs and Home for Jack

I can't forget the lane that goes from Steyning to the Ring
In summer time, and on the downs how larks and linnets sing

High in the sun. The wind comes off the sea, and oh, the air!
I never knew till now that life in old days was so fair.
But now I know it in this filthy rat-infested ditch,
Where every shell must kill or spare, and God alone knows which.
And I am made a beast of prey, and this trench is my lair –
My God, I never knew till now that those days were so fair,
And we assault in half-an-hour, and it's a silly thing:
I can't forget the lane that goes from Steyning to the Ring.

Day two and three for the Charity Cycle ride was through the garden of England, past the Sussex downs and finally in to Portsmouth and its familiar heritage.  I am not sure that Sussex in November was quite as portrayed by Canon Purvis in his poem from Steyning to ‘Chactonbury’ Ring but as a member of the 5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment serving in the front trenches the monochrome reality of war must have been a vivid and stark contrast to his memories of home.  For the cyclists it was two more wet days with a number of very heavy rain showers sweeping off the English Channel.  For once the referees do not have the option to stop the game but have had to simply get their heads down and keep heading West.

As they left Dover, time was spent at the Op Fuller Memorial.  Unveiled in 2012 it commemorates those that attempted to block the return of three battle cruisers, the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, back to Germany in what became known as the Channel Dash.  The Fleet Air Arm’s Lt Cdr Eugene Esmonde, the commander of 826 squadronn, was awarded the VC.  Though the three ships made it to Germany they were out of the Battle of the Atlantic , much to the relief of Churchill and Roosevelt.  For the cyclists there was to be little relief as a head wind joined forces with the rain to make for difficult and moral sapping conditions.

The team are now fully in to their cycling rhythm but still face their longest days as they continue to Brickfields with the match ball.  Though there are a few creaks and groans in the joints they are all still on track.  Chairman Andy Coles has left to return to Plymouth as he is match organiser for the CS Remembrance Match but the core team will be joined by a number of day tripping referees as they complete the last two and half days.

Remembrance Sunday will of course be poignant as to Armistice Day itself.  Anyone either in or associated with today’s Armed Forces is never far away from memories of colleagues lost or badly injured in more recent times and though the scale is not that of the Great War the individual cost and reaction is no different.  The poetry of the trenches evokes powerful images but as the cyclists stayed over night in Portsmouth, a Naval city, I was caught by Rudyard Kipling’s poem from 1915, for those family and friends who face their own adversity and where news and indeed no news brings its own fears and challenges - My Boy Jack.

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

The Navy Referees have now passed half way and can be sponsored via their VirginMoney Charity Page.  Day four takes them to Dorchester, whilst day five is passed Lympstone stopping over night at Dartmouth.

Combined Services Women v Exeter University @ HMS Drake Tuesday 12 November KO 14:00 [Free Entry]

Combined Services v Barbarians @ Brickfields Tuesday 12 November KO 19:15 [Click for tickets]

Both matches in aid of the Royal British Legion.

By Geraint Ashton Jones