Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Weekend Wordsmith - Forgotten

Many things had slipped between the dusty floorboards of the classroom. Bored children had often posted things through the cracks. In the space beneath the floor lay work sheets, pencil leads and shavings, detention slips, a few coins - all resting amid the mouse droppings and cobwebs.

The school was closed, the doors and windows locked for the last time. It was demolished and weeds took over, covering all traces of the building. There had been plans to erect smart new homes but grandiose ideas require funding and there was no money to spare so the site remained abandoned, a haven for wild life. At night foxes crossed the ground, trotting purposefully about their business, calling sharply to their mates, voices echoing in the stillness.

Years passed and now trees and shrubs had taken root, providing shelter and food for birds and beasts. The company that had intended to build was now defunct and the planning permission from the local council had long since expired. Local children played in the area in daylight and their teenage siblings larked about after dark. There was talk of tidying up the place and rubber-gloved volunteers regularly traipsed across it with refuse bags removing the debris and detritus left by unthinking users.

One of the new young volunteers was the grandson of a former pupil of the long-gone school. He was a conscientious litter picker, careful not to disturb small habitats or wild flowers. Bending down to remove a carrier bag that had been entangled in brambles he noticed a metal object half-buried beneath earth and leaves. It had a coloured ribbon, faded but still discernible. He pulled it from the soil and rubbed it with his thumb. It looked like a medal. He was sure his grandfather would be able to tell him something about it.

Cleaned up it was revealed as a medal awarded for service in the Persian Gulf from 1909-1914. Around the edge was the name of the sailor to whom it had been awarded and his ship – HMS Highflyer. The grandfather sighed deeply and rubbed a hand across his face. 'This medal belonged to my grandfather, your great-grandfather 'he said. 'I never thought I would see it again. I sneaked it out of the house one day to show my teacher but one of the boys snatched it from me and pushed it down between the floorboards. I worried for years after that my father would find out it was missing but he never did. I had forgotten all about it until now.'

HMS Highflyer – Light Cruiser 5,600 tons

In August 1915 it was announced that His Majesty the King was pleased to sanction a medal to be known as the Naval General Service Medal, to be awarded for service in minor naval warlike operations. The medal was to be awarded with a clasp inscribed 'Persian Gulf 1909-14' to officers and men of HM Ships employed in the operations for the suppression of the arms traffic in the Arabian Sea or Persian Gulf.

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