A reflection on the fragility of life
After an extremely busy two weeks spent walking, driving or travelling by train through the most awful conditions, the fragility of life seems uppermost in my mind. It all started during a visit to North Wales & Borders. I was shown a framed list hanging at Ellesmere Yard, the workshop of the great Thomas Telford and one of our heritage jewels. It gives the names and occupations of 36 canal company men who went to fight in what we now know as the First World War. As well as their names, it shows their occupations and what regiment they served in. Here are joiners, painters, a boat-builder, a sawyer, a fitter, an apprentice, who left to serve in the Royal Horse Artillery, the Shropshire Yeomanry, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Engineers and the Loyal South Lancs.
I felt privileged to stand in the workshop where so many men before and since had learnt and honed their skills and put their craftsmanship to good use. I imagined the noise, the banter, the camaraderie and fellowship. I tried to imagine what the mothers and wives, sisters and girlfriends of those brave young men felt when told of their intention to go and fight in the European War. It’s not clear what became of all of them, although two are listed as killed in action. I wondered how many on the list came home safe and took up their work again on the canals, savouring their peace and tranquility after the horrors of war.
Unfortunately over the years, the document has suffered water and light damage, but our collections manager Dale Copley is hoping that, funds permitting, it can be restored and can take its place in the Trust’s permanent collection as a fitting tribute to those canal men who served their country.
Back in the present, as I write, there are still numerous severe flood warnings - meaning there is a danger to life. It's sobering to think that something on which we depend for life, and most of the time looks so beautiful and inviting, can suddenly turn into a threat. My colleagues up and down the country are working very hard alongside those of the Environment Agency to help alleviate problems wherever they can, and I hope they all stay safe. One thing’s for sure, we certainly won’t forget the winter of 2013-14 in a hurry.
Liz Waddington is editor of The Source, the Canal & River Trust’s monthly staff newspaper. She has been in love with canals and their industrial heritage since her first holiday on the Grand Union Canal when she was 10 years old. Liz likes nothing more than getting out and meeting her colleagues on the cut.See more blogs from Liz Waddington