Wednesday 10 February 2021

Sentimental journey?

 When I was in school He Who Would Valiant Be - with it's refrain of 'to be a pilgrim' was a favourite hymn. I guess that it may not be sung quite so much now in school assemblies, if they still have those. John Buchan's Pilgrim's Progress might not be a set text these days either. I'm sure I read it, but I don't remember it. My school days were a long time ago. 

The word came to my mind when I was writing the post about travelling last month, and I mentioned a pilgrimage I want to make to Scotland. A pilgrimage is defined in the dictionary as journey to a sacred place, and even in our secular society, there are many that still happen for that purpose, across many religions. A looser definition  that I have also seen used would be be a journey with a purpose, and my proposed trip to Scotland would encompass that. 

It is a very sentimental journey. One I promised I would make several years ago, although personal circumstances and pandemics have intervened. The place I want to go is to to the Isle of Orkney, most specifically to Scapa Flow, where the World War Two wreck of the warship HMS Royal Oak still lies. The ship was sunk by a U Boat in the second month of the war. I want to visit, as my mother's cousin, my cousin, once removed, was one of the sailors who went down with the ship. Ruben was just 20 years old, an only child, just out of training, who had a long standing ambition to join the navy. apparently it was all he ever wanted to do. His parents were naturally devastated, as were so many others who lost sons, fathers, brothers in a global conflict. 

With a writers imagination, which can sometimes be a burden as well as a blessing, I've often thought that his parents probably only had a sketchy notion of where their son died, and as far as I know they were never able to visit what would be his grave. I decided then that I wanted to go, for them. Very sentimental. It's my little pilgrimage, and I hope that I eventually get to do it. Maybe next year? 


  1. I think it would be an amazing journey and a lovely tribute to your cousin. I treasure two letters sent from a lady in South Africa to my late uncle's mother - one telling her about his visit to their house and another saying how sorry she was to hear he'd been lost on HMS HERMES shortly afterwards.

    1. There is so much we don't know about what happened in the war, and we are losing that generation - things like your letters are treasures.