It’s strange coming to a cemetery to meet you. I’m the youngest of all your nieces and nephews, and I’m one of Cyril’s children. It’s his birthday the day I meet you. I like to think he’d be happy we came to see you on his birthday. It was purely coincidental, but adds a nice synergy. Dad didn’t talk much about you, I think it was hard for him. He was only 15 when you were killed. I could tell he had looked up to you though.
I wonder what sort of uncle you’d have been? Smiley like John? Multi-lingual like Pat and Kevin? Quiet with a love of corny jokes like Dad? Were you similar to Mary and Nana, or more like Granddad with a handshake to break your bones? The family resemblances are so strong in the McKone genes… which one of my brothers would look like you?
It’s peaceful here Jim…peaceful but also with a sense of heartbreak. So many white headstones, so many young people lost in their prime. It’s hard for me to picture the scene that brought you to this final resting place – the horrors of the Italian trenches. Thanks to you and the others in this place, I’ve not had to live through anything like that. The Italians and the War Cemetery people have done well here. I feel they’ve looked after you and treated you, and all the others, even those unnamed, with utmost respect and care.
The taxi driver is nice Jim. I recall the story of the caring Italian family who looked after a young 20 year old Kevin searching for you and getting lost on the way. The taxi driver is sitting waiting for us. It’s only going to cost 18 Euro for him to sit and wait and take us back to the train station. We’ll give him a 20 Euro tip – it’s a small token to say thank you to his kindness – and in some ways is my way of giving something back to a local given that I haven’t had time to be able to contact the italians who cared for Kevin.
This trip has felt like it has all come together. I feel like Dad has watched over us for this trip – the trains, the taxi, the weather – it’s all been easy to get here. Coming here has been a surprise for me. It was something I’ve wanted to do, more so since Kevin died and there’s none of your siblings left. But I didn’t expect it to be quite so emotional. I didn’t think I’d cry like I did, walking around the graves. This peaceful ground, full of lost New Zealanders, Australians, Canadians, English, Scots, Cypriots, Palestinians… it takes your breath away when the reality hits you. Over 1100 headstones Jim, and so many of them with the Kiwi Fern on them. I cried for you all, at the loss of life, and the loss of an uncle I could never know.
I’m glad I came Jim. Thank you. We will remember you.