Nothing new to report about my paternal grandfather, George Nice born George King*, since the revelatory day at my cousin Diana's back in 2014 when I saw photographs of him for the first time, and the consequent revelations about his origins from a lady in Colchester. Yet every 11/11 I want to remember him, with some sadness at this proud, lonely figure standing to attention with a banner on many Armistice Day commemorations, as he is above in the front line towards the left. He fought throughout the War in the dragoon guards, and survived it. We know, albeit not in detail, that mustard gas poisoning left him an invalid, with who knows what impact on the adolescent years of my father, so often melancholy in my memories of him (though Diana and his goddaughter Sara remember him further back as a happy, laughing person).
Here, again, then, is the Croix de Guerre, the reverse side this time, which he was awarded (I repeat this ritually from The History of the 5th Dragoon Guards, remarking on the events of 7 April 1918 in Fampoux field to the east of Athies) 'for his gallantry in reconnoitring under heavy rifle and machine gun fire to try and find a route for the regiment to make a further advance in the direction of Greenland Hill.' I feel fortunate that ever since 2014 I have much of a more specific nature by which to remember him.
Other than Britten's War Requiem, I can't think of a more powerful commemoration in musical terms than his (pacifist) teacher Frank Bridge's Oration. After 1918, the gateway of international modernism was open to this underrated figure, a truly international British composer. Appropriate that the soloist should be a German of true Mensch status, Alban Gerhardt.
*Though the indefatigable Josie Holford - see comments - has now added this:
'His half brother Henry Thomas Nice died on July 27th 1917. He was serving as a private with the 15th Battalion of the Royal welsh Fusiliers – London Welsh – the same battalion as David Jones of In Parenthesis. This was just before the start of Passchendaele.
'He is memorialized on the Menin Gate'.
So there was loss there too. As I've mentioned before, my grandfather was actually a King, the illegitimate son of a chamber maid who married a Mr Nice several years later; the boy later chose to take his stepfather's name. So we are not in fact Nices at all.