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All Together Now - the Farm

It's that time of year, time for a few choice yuletide tunes. And this is amongst the best, although most people don't even know it's a Christmas song.

Last summer, I was at a fancy dress party to celebrate my friend Polly's fiftieth birthday party. The theme was Europe. I went in the donkey outfit made by my Mum years ago (see earlier posts) with an upturned small colander on its head, wittily (I thought), styled as Don Quixote (Donkey Ho Tea geddit?) It was a great party. I recall athletically triumphing on the dance floor, rock and rolling with assorted partners, although my vision was so severely limited due to the costume donkey head that I couldn't see who they were and later realised that for much of the time I had been dancing with a man that I didn't particularly like rather than I woman that I did! After this shock it seemed best to divulge myself of the outfit and redon my civvies and then, on the drunken fringes of the boogieing throng, I had one of those excruciating party moments where I was introduced to the husband of an ex-work colleague, a large man dressed in the very realistic costume of a Roman Centurion. This stalwart of Caesar's army was called Andy, and as is the way with the inebriated at parties, exceedingly tactile, hugging me and thanking me and saying how much he loved my discos. Flattered, I politely asked if he was into sixties soul music, while attempting to tactfully disentangle myself from his embrace. But I'm glad I didn't succeed. He said that no, he liked my discos because I always played "All Together Now" by the Farm. And then he told me about his great grandfather.

When he was a little boy, around about ten years years old, a member of his family - he was never later to find out which - had told him that his grandfather had died from bayonet wounds in the First Battle of Ypres. Later he became aware that his family still had all his great grandfather's medals, and the bronze memorial wall plate sent to the families of all who died in the war, but they didn't know what he had been told by the mysterious family member, namely how and where he had died, only that he had died in the First World War. The grown-up Andy became determined to find out, and on the this journey he became something of an amateur expert on the First World War. He discovered that his great grandfather had indeed died on November 8th 1914 in the First Battle of Ypres, where there were upwards of 125,000 British, Commonwealth, Belgian and French casualties, and 135,000 German casualties. Many of the allied troops who fought at Ypres would have had passed through what is known as the Menin Gate, a narrow gateway in the original wall that surrounded the town of Ypres. The gate itself was well nigh destroyed by shellfire over those four years, but was rebuilt after the war in 1927 containing stone panels with the names of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died there but whose bodies have never been identified or found. Andy movingly told me of the moment when he found the name of his great grandfather on this monument.

he told me how, in gratitude for the sacrifices made by the allies at Ypres 1914-18, the people of the town decided to have a bugler play "The Last Post" every evening throughout the year at 20.00 hours. This practice has continued every night since July 2nd 1928, except for the period of German occupation in World War Two when the ceremony was conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. This has since become an important part of the tourist trade that benefits the town, but it's for all the right reasons and there are relatives, tourists, military historians and people just paying their respects there every night to this day.

On November 8th 2014 Andy, his wife and his mother, joined several hundred people there for the centenary of the battle, the numbers too difficult to guess at, but there were people, Andy said, overflowing out of the memorial building all they way down the street.

On December 25th 2014, one month after the First Battle of Ypres, men from both sides of the conflict in places all along the front put down their weapons and met out in the middle of "No man's land" proving that even amidst the horrors of war, humanity will out. They exchanged gifts, shared tobacco, booze and rations, shaved each other and even had a game of football. And finished the day singing carols together. It's sad that neither Andy's great grandfather nor John Kipling (see yesterday's post) lived long enough to partake in it.

Liverpudlian band, the Farm, remember this moment on their 1990 single, "Altogether Now", basing the tune around seventeenth century German composer Johann Pachelbel's Canon. The British and Germans coming together in music. I'd listened to this song, played it at discos many, many times and never realised, until Andy told me, what it was about. Just listen to the words:

"Remember boy that your forefather's died lost in millions for a country's pride but they never mention the trenches of Belgium when they stopped fighting and they were one

a spirit stronger than war was at work that night December 1914 cold, clear and bright countries' borders were right out of sight when they joined together and decided not to fight..."

The nativity, on any level, is a celebration of birth and family, and a time to remember loved ones who for whatever reason are not with us on that day. And it's a coming together, a moment to be good to one another, whoever we are, at least once a year.

And that's why it's Andy's favourite song. I'll go along with that. C'mon everybody, sing along:

"Altogether now,

altogether now,

altogether now

in no man's land......"

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