Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Biographical · #2037799
Francis, my great-grandfather, fought in W.W.1 as a sergeant in The Fighting Fish.
| SALUTE TO A FIGHTING FISH Let me introduce Frank. Actually, his name is Francis. Perhaps he didn't like to be known as Frank. I do not know, I never met him.I never had the pleasure. Conceivably, if it weren't for a life-altering international event known as W.W.1, I could have met him. My great-grandfather is a statistic, one of too many thousands to die in that war. I did meet and come to love his widow, his son, ( and namesake), and his daughter. When I was a child, he might have been a living, breathing person with a definite British accent and war stories to share. If he had survived to meet me, he'd have been a war veteran. Granted, I couldn't possibly meet him now; he would be 121! I'm gradually getting to know him through my fascinating hobby of genealogy. Some have reacted to my family search as if I was crazy. Who needs more relatives? Aren't the ones you do know enough? Don't you have more than enough to keep track of? You can't choose your relatives you know. Isn't the past dead and buried? Water under the bridge, and all that.The past is the past, you can't resurrect it. Why can't I? I am curious. It's not as if I suddenly appeared one day without a family connection. My very existence is rooted and entangled with generations of ancestors. They literally broke ground. They laid the foundation. They planted the familial tree. They paved the way. In other words, they worked hard, they lived, loved and laughed, they thrived, they succeeded; the family continued. Some in particular made selfless sacrifices. The type that is commemorated every November 11th via Remembrance Day. Through my genealogical research, I've discovered that both my paternal and maternal ancestors had a military background. Canadian history comes alive with the knowledge of my family's participation in The War of 1812. Fascinating information to be sure, but, alas, people I could never have met. Two hundred years separate me from that particular branch of my family tree. This battle occurred in Southern Ontario long before my other side of the tree had even thought to emigrate to Canada.For now, I am concentrating on the British bunch that experienced W.W. 1 firsthand. Close to one-hundred years ago, Great-Grandpa Francis Bissenden volunteered to fight for his country, Great Britain, as an infantryman of the Royal Sussex Regiment. I surmise that he was not only a patriotic man, but a proud one loyal to his roots. He was born in Hastings, Sussex, and his regiment was a local one. This army of soldiers referred to themselves as The Orange Lilies or The Haddocks: the fighting flowers or the fighting fish. Regular everyday people capable of irreverence and bravado? Francis , the fighting fish, I've discovered, was awarded two service medals; the British War Medal and the British Victory Medal. He apparently exemplified his regiment's motto, " nothing succeeds like Sussex". To qualify for this recognition, he had only to be mobilized in any service and to have " entered a theatre of war" between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. What an odd choice of words, " entered a theatre of war"! It's not as if Francis and his fellow soldiers strolled into an establishment of entertainment expecting to enjoy a movie or a stage show. They fought in one of the bloodiest battles known.. The Battle of the Somme. They and their foe were also named " the belligerents". This might be more fitting for schoolyard bullies or friends who agree to disagree. Combatants would be a more fitting name. Sergeant Francis Bissenden was killed in action, 17 October 1916. It's likely that he was at the Somme for months experiencing trench warfare up close and very personal; the unending mud, the bombardments, the heavy casualties, the no-man's land of vulnerability and barbed wire. He may well have witnessed the introduction of the first army tanks. As a sergeant, Francis was probably, as I understand it, a go-to man between the enlisted men and the officers. I'd like to think that he was both a leader and a foot soldier, the middle-management kind of guy. He trained, he mentored, he monitored, and he followed orders. At twenty-six years of age, Sergeant Bissenden carried a lifetime of responsibility. He was the eldest of his birth family. He'd already "lost" his younger brother on the battlefield, the year before he himself died. ( Both of them were mourned by their sisters, they were the only sons.) Francis was also a husband and a father. His widow was left to grieve with their two-year old son, Francis, and their infant daughter, Gladys. I'm not sure if he ever met her, the child that would one day become my grandmother. She was born in April of the year he died. Ninety-five years later, I am meeting my great-grandfather for the first time. I've resurrected tantalizing bits and pieces of the man that was Francis. He was a son, a brother, a cousin, a grandson, a husband, a father and a soldier. Unfortunately, he never realized his role as a grandfather and more. He made the ultimate sacrifice, but he has not been forgotten. Now I will remember you Great-Grandpa. I salute you and your comrades. ( I actually wrote this a few years ago)|