My Grandfather, First World War soldier

The First World War commemorative poppies are adding a splash of colour at the entrance to RHS Garden Rosemoor

Lance Corporal James OllingtonOn seeing them, I remembered my grandfather who fought on the battlefields of Belgium and France.

This is my Grandfather, Lance Corporal James Ollington. He was a professional soldier who served in the Boer War, Malta, and India and finally was in action in the Great War in Belgium and France. My granddad received a severe head injury when an exploding shell collapsed the trench in which he was sheltering and was evacuated firstly to England and then back to his home in Galway, Eire.

My granddad survived the war and went on to have a family of five children. He enjoyed reasonable health and worked on the land until retirement age. He was widely renowned as an authority on fruit and vegetable growing and enjoyed helping and advising his friends and neighbours who openly admired his “patch”.

How to grow papaver rhoeasThere are many moving images of the Great War; one which is often seen is of a small, strong soldier hurrying through a trench with an unconscious man on his back. As he approaches the camera he stares directly into the lens and it feels to me that he is looking into the world’s consciousness. Although the identity of this man has never been confirmed, I believe that this soldier was James Ollington, my grandad. When I asked my mother about this image she always used to say that she believed it was her father but hoped that it was not. She could not bear to imagine the horrors that he had endured. 

I never met my grandad; he died in 1956, six years before my birth. He would have been very disappointed if he knew that I had also served in the military and saw action in the Gulf War from 2002 to 2004. He would, however, have been so proud to know that I worked in RHS Garden Rosemoor amidst its beauty, tranquility and peace.

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