A military funeral

What follows is the text of an email I sent to Canadian relations after Jason’s funeral on 4th June.

Attended Jason’s funeral on Thursday in a beautiful Cotswold village under a glorious summer sky. The whole village turned out to watch the procession go past, including the local primary school. The local BBC news crew were also in attendance, although I haven’t found a clip on the BBC news website, so it might just have been shown locally in Oxfordshire.
This was a full military production (and I use the word advisedly and with no disrespect to family and friends). The forces take care to give considerable honour and respect to those of their number who fall in conflict and this was no exception. A number of marines in uniform were in the pub before the procession, including those who knew Jason and those who did not. We walked as a large family group behind the hearse through the streets of Bampton in a strange silence; the police had closed the roads and the locals came out to pay their respects. The only sound was the tolling of the church bell, two tolls and a pause, two tolls and a pause … As we approached the green in front of the church, the men of the local Royal British Legion who lined the lane lowered the various standards they were carrying in respect. To our right were drawn up in ranks about 40 marines in dress uniform, all facing away from the coffin and with heads bowed. The bearer party of marines, with bare heads, took possession of the flag-draped coffin and proceeded along the path through the churchyard, which was again lined by the honour party with rifles sloped and heads bowed. We processed into the church through the west door and found that it was already three-parts full. I ended up sitting next to Caroline (about the only person I knew) and it took an age for everyone else to come in. The usher was a marine nco who was extremely efficient in filling up nooks and crannies with people. One poor group of young women, obviously hoping to find a space somewhere at the back, had to come right down the packed nave, squeeze past the coffin on its bier, up through the choir and into the chancel where some more choirstalls were empty. The choirstalls beside Jason’s coffin were filled with his comrades and the south apse was filled with the remaining marines. A number of other marines in wheelchairs and on crutches were also present. A standard bearer from the RBL stood at attention at the head of the coffin throughout the hour-long service with the marine standard. Jason’s dress hat and gloves were on the flagged coffin.
The parish church in Bampton is a beautiful Cotswold stone building with an eclectic range of styles and successive campaigns of building. The west doors were open and the light gave a very serene feeling to the whole place. There must have been around 500 people packed in to the place. Peter was at the organ and did a sterling job.
The service went as funerals will. Great solemnity and enormous stretches of silence between the ritual. Richard (Jason’s older brother) gave the tribute and I was surprised to hear just how strong a southern African accent he had – I shouldn’t have been, but I was.
There were several enormously poignant moments in the service. When Jason’s medals were presented to his family. When Richard spoke of the friendship and innocence of young brothers playing at home on the farm. When we sang the hymns “For those in peril on the sea” and “I vow to thee my country”. When, at last, at the end of the service and after a long silence when we stood in contemplation, the marine bugler played the last post from outside the west door and behind us, letting his perfect notes echo and resound through the building. When, after another silence, the shots of the salute cracked out three times. The sense of military business returned when the bearer party came back in to retrieve the coffin at the quick march (they left at slow). And so we emerged again into this beautiful English, Cotswold summer day with nary a cloud in the sky to see the cortège depart for the cremation.
I didn’t follow on to the cremation. I had to make my way to Suffolk and find somewhere to get some food – the diabetic’s great excuse.
A strange and powerful day. The phrase that came to mind was the “theatre of war” – this military production with its well-rehearsed cast; its dramas and players, the music and sound and fury. But what a company! I watched these young men in the pub beforehand and they had a quiet, confident camaraderie that I’ve seldom seen. Even though many of them hadn’t met, they knew and recognised one another and were at ease in their shared identity and common purpose. We may sometimes dislike the task that they are given, but they are worthy of our respect and gratitude for they way they accept their duty and, often, pay the price.

In memoriam: Marine Jason Mackie

The following is the text of the Ministry of Defence  news item reporting the death in action of my cousin, Marine Jason Mackie:

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Marine Jason Mackie of Armoured Support Group Royal Marines was killed in Afghanistan on Thursday 14 May 2009.

Marine Jason Mackie

Marine Jason Mackie
[Picture: via MOD]

Marine Mackie was supporting IX Company of the Welsh Guards when his vehicle struck an explosive device in the Basharan area of central Helmand, Afghanistan.

The explosion killed Marine Mackie instantly and also injured his crew mate who is still receiving medical treatment.

At the time of his death Marine Mackie was serving as a Viking All Terrain Vehicle Operator in 3rd Armoured Support Troop of the Armoured Support Group, Royal Marines.

Marine Jason Mackie

Marine Mackie was born in Bampton, Oxfordshire and was 21 years old. He joined the Royal Marines in June 2007. Following successful completion of Royal Marine Recruit Training and the Commando Course he joined 40 Commando Royal Marines based in Taunton where he initially served as a Rifleman.

He then underwent the Armoured Support Operators Course, qualifying him to operate the Viking All Terrain Vehicle. In September 2008 he joined the Armoured Support Group Royal Marines and completed pre-deployment training before deploying on operations to Afghanistan in November 2008.

Marine Mackie was an energetic and highly respected member of the Royal Marines and the Armoured Support Group. He loved all sports and was always a central character in the unit social life.

Marine Mackie was a very passionate and proud Zimbabwean who enjoyed hunting at home on the farm, a hobby which helped him become a marksman during basic training. He was admired by his colleagues for his work ethic and love of life. He was extremely proud to be a Royal Marine Commando and held dear the qualities of the Commando spirit and displayed courage, determination, unselfishness and cheerfulness in abundance.

Marine Mackie’s family paid the following tribute:

“Jason was one in a billion and will be sorely missed by his family and friends and his partner Vic and her family.”

Marine Jason Mackie

Marine Jason Mackie
[Picture: via MOD]

Major Richard Hopkins Royal Marines, Officer Commanding Armoured Support Group said:

“Marine Mackie was a colourful, cheerful and enthusiastic young man who I will always remember for his sense of fun and everlasting grin. He was immensely proud of being a Royal Marine and a Viking operator and took great pleasure in his work.

“As a member of my vehicle crew on several operations, he had proved himself to be a highly capable, dedicated and hard-working operator. Always at the centre of any pranks or games, he was the first to pick up a ball, bat or anything else that could be improvised and employed for sport.

“When on task he remained the true professional, focused and alert regardless of the hardships. He immersed himself in the life of a Royal Marine and was thriving in the operational environment.

“The Armoured Support Group has lost a brave and skilled operator but more than this, we have lost a loyal and popular friend. Marine Mackie was one of ours and we will never let go of his memory. His death is a bitter blow but we remain resolute and focused on our duties and will not see his sacrifice pass by in vain. My thoughts and those of every member of the group are with his family and girlfriend at this difficult time.”

Captain Gez Kearse Queens Royal Hussars, Officer Commanding 3rd Armoured Support Troop said:

“Marine Mackie was an outstanding young man and a superb soldier. Never one to shy away from responsibility, Mackie’s ability to continue working in the harshest of environments brought out the best of this extremely dedicated young man.

“Mackie would continue to graft when others slipped by the wayside, motivating those to continue through the difficult times. A passionate sportsman, Mackie was a talented cricketer who often bowled many a batsman out with an improvised ball and bat made during extended periods in Patrol Base locations.

“Marine Mackie was an outstanding young man and a superb soldier.”

Captain Gez Kearse

“Wonderfully generous with his time and energies, Marine Mackie epitomised all that it is to be a Royal Marine. As a soldier he will be missed as a true professional. A hole has been left in 3rd AST which can never be filled. My thoughts and prayers extend at this most difficult of times to his family and girlfriend.”

Warrant Officer Class 2 Group Sergeant Major Matt Tomlinson CGC Royal Marines said:

“Marine Mackie was known to me as ‘Makie’ – but perhaps it should have been smiler because whenever we spoke he would always greet me with that smile. Despite hardships during missions and tasks, atrocious weather and long, drawn out hours of endless Viking operations, Makie would always appear from his vehicle smiling.

“This shows the true character of Makie, a true ‘Bootneck’ a strong fit Royal Marine, one of the brave, leading the section from the front despite the threat. Marine Mackie will always be remembered, it would be impossible to forget such a character. It was an honour to know him, likewise an honour to serve with him; it will be an honour to remember him. God bless you Mackie.”

Lance Corporal Jamie McGill said:

“Marine Mackie was an unbreakable Marine both physically and mentally, always smiling when times got tough. Everyone knew him for his big grin. He will be sorely missed by all the lads from ASGRM.”

Lance Corporal Thomas McDermott said:

“Marine Mackie was a strong Royal Marine and was always first to volunteer for any job. He was a well liked member of the troop, always with a smile and cheerful outlook on life. Mackie will be deeply missed by all.”

“Marine Mackie was known to me as ‘Makie’ – but perhaps it should have been smiler because whenever we spoke he would always greet me with that smile.”

Warrant Officer Class 2 Group Sergeant Major Matt Tomlinson RM

Marines Jamie McGillick and Tom Leatherbarrow said:

“We both shared a room with Jason Mackie when we were at 40 Commando together, having all passed out of recruit training around the same time. He was an absolute pleasure to be around and was always up for a night out and a laugh together.

“We had a great six months together at 40 before all moving to ASGRM in September 08. Jason brought his sense of humour with him and always found something continually more honking to do to make us all laugh. He was excellent at breaking things but always managed to keep a smile on his face despite the admin vortex that was continually following him around. He was a fantastic bloke and we will all miss him deeply. Rest in peace mate.”

Marine Anton Rushmere said:

“Mackie had the kind of personality you could always depend on to lift morale when things got hard. We loved to talk about home and family and often shared parcels containing biltong and ouma rusks, an African delicacy. Mackie was a family guy through and through and loved his girlfriend very much and my thoughts are with them all now.”

Marine Mathew Vowles said:

“Mackie was a young and ambitious Marine. You could always rely on him to boost your morale either by getting caught doing something he shouldn’t or generally just having banter with the lads. He was a true character in himself who had a lot of ambition. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends, especially his girlfriend. He will be dearly missed by all the lads and will never be forgotten.”

Trooper Bobby Moore said:

“Marine Mackie was a strong character with a promising career. He was always centre of any banter or prank being played on the lads, but would always give the game away with his smile. Gone but never forgotten.”

Marine Callum Gray said:

“Marine Mackie was a brilliant soldier and an even better friend. Mackie didn’t have the best of laughs but he seemed to do it a lot so that is good! He had a great dream and I have no doubt that he would have succeeded. To a wonderful friend, a brilliant soldier and my brother, Mackie. Always in our hearts.”

“Mackie had the kind of personality you could always depend on to lift morale when things got hard. We loved to talk about home and family and often shared parcels containing biltong and ouma rusks, an African delicacy.”

Marine Anton Rushmere

Marine Chris Bardsley said:

“Marine Mackie was a good marine and a hoofing mate. Always first to put his hand up to help someone, and the last to shy away from any work. He will be sorely missed by everyone in ASGRM.”

Marine Ben Tait said:

“Marine Mackie was a strong bootneck who prided himself on upholding the Corps values. His cheerfulness in adversity was one which we all respected him for. His ability to never drip and look on the positive, is what made him such a valued member of this group.”

Marine Baz Markham said:

“Marine Mackie was a physically fit and strong member of the group. Always helping out whenever he could. It was an honour to have known him and he will be missed.”

Marine James John said:

“Marine Mackie was a very strong and promising Royal Marine. He was always up to help someone out and never shied from any work. Always found with a smile, he will be dearly missed by all members of ASGRM.”

Trooper David MacDougall said:

“Marine Mackie was a promising and strong character who never shied away from work and he always had a smile on his face. Mackie loved life and most of all loved being a bootneck. He will be missed by all but never forgotten.”

Secretary of State for Defence, John Hutton MP, said:

“I was extremely saddened to learn of the death of Marine Jason Mackie. It is clear from the tributes paid to him by his commanders and comrades that he was a very popular character and a brave young Marine, whose loss will be felt deeply by those he fought beside as well as by his loved ones. My thoughts are with them at this terribly sad time.”

Snot goblins

We have just had the pleasure of oldest daughter visiting for a week with her fiance and my first grandson. He’s just over 13 months old and toddling nicely, finding all the things that are so fascinating to a small person and so challenging to a big one! Charming when asleep …

Sleeping baby

Sleeping baby

… and here’s a picture of him toddling down the road with Mum:

Toddler and mother

Toddler and mother

Have just got back from driving them all to Glasgow airport for the flight back to Somerset. It’s a 200-mile round trip, but all part of the pleasures of living in the west of Scotland.

The other relevant bit of information is that I’ve heard today that my step-sister has been relieved of a lump now of the appellation of Thomas. And so the generations once more get out of step.

Daisy’s up the duff

I suppose, as an absent father, sooner or later one of your daughters is going to pick up the phone and make that call. This evening, I learned that I am likely to become a grandfather not long after my 47th birthday, rather sooner than I had anticipated.
I’m very proud of Daisy for having the guts to call me and give me the news. It’s not as if her life is really in a good position for sprogging; she’s only 18 and still finishing her college course, living at home and/or with her boyfriend who’s living at home. But, boyfriend and his family are supportive and her mother hasn’t given her too much grief, so at least she can start to come to terms with pregnancy (damn! there’s that word) and start planning for the future without having to deal with over-emotive families. It’s not going to be easy for her and it’s hard to know just how much I can do 500 miles from the action.
To be frank, it’s her life and she’s been wanting to make all the decisions since she was twelve, and decisions and choices have consequences; we’re all wiser after the events of our own choosing. That’s not to say that I don’t adore her or want the best for her or want to be with her and hold her hand and hug her and tell her that’s she’s the world to me and always has been, it just means that no parent can live their lives vicariously through their children and expect them to make the choices they would have made with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight; life just isn’t like that.
After all, there are worse mistakes to make when you’re eighteen than falling pregnant, and that in itself isn’t a disaster. Honest.
More rational observation, comment and news will doubtless follow.

A little family history

I promised to pass on some of the family tales that Mum related to me when I saw her over the New Year. Here are a couple:
Mum’s great-grandfather was a GP in Parham Harbour, on Antigua. He died young and left his wife and children in abject poverty, which was extremely incongruous in the white population of the island at the time. Great-grandmother took to sewing crinoline hoops into dresses to make ends meet and somehow retained her social status and raised her children as a consequence.
Mum also told the tale of a strange journey she made to Jamaica in 1942 when she was only eleven years of age. She was travelling by plane from Antigua to Jamaica to stay with relations when she was put off the plane at Puerto Rico to make room for someone more important – this was wartime and transportation was an uncertain business at the best of times, but for an eleven-year-old girl travelling on her own this was more than a little unfortunate. She was put into an hotel by the airline where she was left alone for a month. She had a vast suite of rooms to herself on an upper floor. Frightened, she would check under her bed every night before going to sleep. She took her meals in the dining room and American GIs would buy her comics to amuse her. She eventually arrived in Jamaica just after her twelfth birthday.

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Passing time in London

A retro-blog by Pat the Chooks
Sunday, 21st January 2007
Flew down today for a meeting tomorrow in London. Currently sitting in the George Inn, Borough High Street in Southwark, enjoying a pint of their own ale (brewed by Greene King) and the warmth of a hot radiator beside my leg.
Sunday night in London doesn’t feel like a weekday night – more places are closed, this pub’s not doing evening meals and the suburban trains aren’t running because of maintenance work on the lines.
With a lunchtime flight from Glasgow, and checking-in for the flight on-line, I didn’t have such an early start as I might have done usually, except that the roads in the village were covered with snow and ice from overnight showers. Very picterskew, but a sod to drive on. Decided to give myself an extra hour for the drive, but only took about five minutes longer than usual in the end. A lot of snow and slush on the road as far as Inveraray, but the roads after that were clear, even if the mountains were cloaked in snow coming through the Arrochar Alps.
I find checking-in on-line for the flight rather cool, actually. It’s a pleasure to avoid the check-in counters and just meander into the airport, get some food and toddle on to the plane when it arrives. Unfortunately, I didn’t print out the boarding pass for tomorrow’s flight back from Gatwick – I thought I had, but I’d just printed today’s twice.
Stopped off en route at Loch Fyne Oysters to get some goodies for my Aunt Liz who lives in south-east London and whom I hadn’t seen for several years. I found her in very good form and we swapped stories of family for an hour or so. Her assorted grandchildren are all astonishingly bright and getting good degrees from good universities. Nice to know I was adopted into a family with such brains. She liked the smoked salmon and Scottish cheese, so they’re definitely a good option for gifties in the future.
Public transport in London is a world away from Argyll. You see the weirdest-looking people, but here they seem to fit in so much better. A young man on the station at Lewisham was raging into his mobile phone to his girlfriend about some useless decks he’d been given when DJing a gig – he felt insulted and outraged because (a) this was his business, (b) he’d got a great set organised and (c) he was actually passionate about his art and he’d been let down. Now, never a fan of the mixing stylie thing, it was fascinating to eavesdrop on a man who clearly knew he was good and was building his business around his talent. Perhaps artistry is less about the medium and more about the application.
It’s still weird sitting in a smoky pub after nearly a year of Scotland being smoke-free. Somehow I feel that England will have to be dragged kicking and screaming come July 1st next year. On this point, I heard Tim Martin from J D Wetherspoon discussing the smoking ban and the effect on the licensed trade in Scotland. The interesting point he made was that, prior to the ban coming in, pubs were becoming the last refuge for smoking in public and that they had probably concentrated smokers up to the ban, with the consequence that it took a little time for the clientèle to adjust and re-balance after the ban came into force. At least, that was his view of the situation in Scotland and he anticipated much the same for the rest of the UK later this year.
Later …
Back to the hotel for supper. After all, they do serve food on a Sunday evening until nine o’clock. Well, not tonight. Back at quarter-to-eight to find the kitchen closed and the chef away because they’d “run sold all the food” – a surprising admission with only six people in the bar. So, off out again in search of something to eat. Fortunately, only a short walk from The Cut and the cluster of restaurants around the New Vic theatre. Several were open and I had a choice of Turkish, Indian (twice), Chinese, Sushi and (ef)Fish. Decided on the Spice of India where I had a fabulous prawn rezala and sag aloo. Also a wicked lime pickle and a coughing fit which drove me into the street to recover. Starter was a simple dal soup served with a slice of lemon in the bowl and a garnish of finely-chopped coriander and red chilli – simple, but very effective.
Back to the hotel to catch up with a chum down for the following-day’s meeting. Bar now thinning out from the earlier crowd of six people to just the two of us and the hotel decided to put cost before customers and close the bar at ten o’clock instead of half-past. Och well, early to bed on a Sunday night never hurt anyone, but it would be nice if the hotel delivered the services they’d promised only earlier that same evening.

Notes on origins

Time with my mother is a rare treat these days, and much of it is spent trying to find out some of her family history the better to inform my understanding of my (adoptive) family. My origins are rather weird – the more so since I am adopted – but unusual even without that fleeting fact.
My father was born in India in 1927 whilst my grandfather was working there doing great things for the emerging science of public health medicine. My mother was born in Antigua of Huguenot stock who had been engaged in the sugar industry there for over three hundred years. I suppose this makes me effectively a second-generation immigrant and, since I am white and blond, I’ve been dying for some scumbag from the BNP to knock on my door and explain the rational behind voluntary repatriation of such as myself … unfortunately, I don’t think they do much canvassing in the Scottish Highlands.
These days, most families have got members who are the family historians or the keepers-of-pedigrees, so original family history research may not be needed if one asks around enough. Mum has pedigrees for her Henzell ancestors (the Huguenots) and Sedgwicks (from Dent in North Yorkshire) and I managed to persuade her to let me borrow them to copy for my/my kids information. There is also a lot of detail on my father’s family, one branch of which (the Owens) has been traced back to 1625. That means a total of 14 generations between the earliest known ancestors and my own children – pretty fantastic when it’s all charted out.
As a consequence of this information, I spent most of the weekend assembling the data into a family tree application and now have over 400 people in various branches, and there are other lines that I know have pedigrees that can be added, particularly on my children’s mother’s side (the former Mrs PtC). Must see if I can borrow them some time.
Because my parents were not really great ones for maintaining relationships with diverse and several branches of their families, I grew up as a child thinking that we had very few relations, in contrast to all my fellows who could reel off long lists of aunts, uncles, cousins and even more remote kin. It’s a bit of a surprise to see just how many extant folk there are perched on the various branches of the family tree, even if I know few of them from Adam/Eve and, no doubt, vice versa.
I’ve added a few “family” tags to my del.icio.us bookmarks, but, to maintain the fiction of anonymity which is the theme of this blog, nothing that links directly to my own family name – you’ll just have to keep guessing if you don’t know already.
To come back to the introduction to this post, Mum gave me a few tales which are worth re-telling and I shall do so in due course here, with appropriate edits of identities.