… was born in Stuttgart, Germany and came to England with her English husband over 47 years ago. She has lived in Harlow for most of that time. She worked in education as a lecturer and student counsellor/psychotherapist. She has been ‘scribbling down’ her thoughts for many years. This free form of expression is very different from the writing she did for her work.
Margarete has lived in this country for more than half of her life so it is not surprising that English has become her main language of communication. However, it is important for her to keep her mother tongue alive. She sometimes writes about the same subject in both English and German and is always surprised to see how differently her thoughts develop in the two languages. Margarete joined Harlow Writers Workshop in 2012.
Choice or Destiny
and the need to remember
Recently I discussed with friends whether we believed our life was predestined or that we had choice. Since it was 100 years since the end of WW1 we were inevitably also talking about remembering lest we should forget. The question arose of how long we would remember the dead? Who remembered now the fallen in the Napoleonic wars? The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said the only death is to be forgotten. How do we keep alive the memory of those who have lived before us?
Listening to Remembrance Sunday Services made me think about the choices young men had in WW1. In the first year of this war people joined up enthusiastically, believing the war would be easily won and that they would be home again for Christmas. But it soon became clear that the government could not rely on volunteers alone. As the war dragged on the government was forced to bring in conscription. Men had no longer the choice whether to join up or not. By now the horrors of the war could not be ignored. More and more wounded soldiers came home to recover and then go immediately back to the front again. I heard one former soldier say that we should honour and remember those who came back and had to live with the trauma of the war for the rest of their lives. He said that they were the real heroes.
We must never forget the pain wars cause. There are never any victors; there are orphans, bereft mothers and fathers, heart-broken widows and lovers. And there are the survivors who struggle all their life to forget but cannot. Many of them do not want to remember the years of killing and dying.
The most moving tribute I watched during these weeks was a TV documentary about one such soldier. The programme maker Jackie Kay the then Scottish poet laureate was given the remarkable diaries written by a young soldier born and bred in Glasgow. Arthur Roberts wrote them during the course of one year, 1917. In his journals he describes the trenches, the fear, the cold, the heavy shelling and the dying he witnessed. He also speaks of friendship and unexpected acts of kindness. His entries are in prose and poems and include his own drawings and watercolours. The diaries were found in the early 2004, in the house where Arthur Roberts lived before he died in 1982. When the Scottish Poet Laureate read them she was so moved that she made a documentary.
Why are the diaries so important, such a witness? Arthur Roberts was a black serviceman who fought alongside his white comrades. The diaries give a real insight into his person, his kindness, empathy, his spirit and pride. However, as a black soldier he was forgotten after the war. Black service men were not honoured or remembered. As Jackie Kay writes ‘There were no black troops included in the Peace March of July 1919, the victory parade held in London to mark the end of the war.’ Black service men were just forgotten by the nation ‘in a collective amnesia’ as Jackie Kay calls it.
Arthur Roberts felt the pain of being forgotten to the end of his days. In the care home where he spent his last years he would sit alone on Remembrance Sunday, he could not bear to watch the ceremonies.
This documentary brought him to life, Arthur Roberts was finally remembered.
We must never forget those who fought and died in wars, in all wars. But we must also not forget the horrors of war, the pain it inflicts, the anger, the shame and the trauma war leaves in the survivors.
To come back to choice or destiny - did Arthur and all the other young servicemen chose to go to war? Or was it their destiny to go and fight, to die or survive? Most likely it was all of these. However much we may think we have control over our lives the reality is that we have far less choice than we like to believe.
Harlow – Down Memory Lane
“Not Harlow New Town” the health visitor gasped
when I told her we were moving. That was 46 years
ago. With an average age of 7 Harlow was often
called ‘pram town’.
What made us come here? Promotion and a conviction that
commuting was not for us, as well as the town park with
Pets’ Corner. We had a toddler and a baby with us. But perhaps
we were most attracted by the friendly lady who sold freshly
roasted coffee in Little Walk. This was a rarity in those days.
I bought my very first hand thrown pottery there, made from
local sand and clay. Today Mayfield Bakery fills a similar gap.
When we arrived there was a multitude of activities on offer, from sports groups to ballet classes and a lively music scene. The Playhouse opened its doors in Nov. 1971. We saw many productions there amongst them a memorable King Lear played by Timothy West. There were more shops then and of higher quality than now. Small shops have always struggled to pay the high rates in the town centre.
We quickly became aware of the less pleasant side of Harlow. New saplings were broken no sooner they were planted. There was litter everywhere. Thirty years ago I went litter picking and collected similar things as my daughter and grandsons did on a recent attempt to clean up the town. In winter I long for friendly weeds to cover the unsightly verges and hedgerows.
Harlow comes into its own each spring and autumn. We have to thank the early landscape architects for this. Along most roads and avenues the trees burst into blossom in spring and transform into a riot of colours in the autumn. The many daffodils and crocuses planted by volunteers are a joy to behold.
We came for 2 years and are still here. Our children enjoyed their childhood and the freedom to roam in relative safety. We all took part in the town twinning events, the children went to Bergen and Prague with their school, we all visited Vélizy.
Recently I have heard Harlow compared to a teenager – not knowing its way, still developing. That is no bad thing – change is good. Harlow is vibrant and warm-hearted, brash and loud. It hides its many advantages under a bushel and is much maligned by people from neighbouring towns who nevertheless come to enjoy its many facilities.
My favourite place in Harlow is the interesting Gibberd Garden which is full of sculptures and plants in surprising places.