Last Sunday I had the strange experience of standing on the distant past, looking up at the recent past while still being in the present.
We visited my brothers who live on the Lincolnshire Wolds near Horncastle, one of the towns that rebelled in the Lincolnshire Uprising of 1536. This rebellion greatly affected the Pilgrimage of Grace that took place north of the river Humber soon afterwards. Robert Aske, the leader of the Yorkshire Pilgrimage, saw what happened to the leaderless Lincolnshire rebels, how easily the “commons” or common folk were manipulated by the “gentlemen” and how this lack of common purpose led directly to the failure of the rebellion.
This one fact made Aske realize that if his uprising were to succeed, it must have a single purpose. He made that the restoration of the religious houses that had been mauled by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. What Aske, and very few others, realized was that Henry was not the tool of Cromwell, not being led astray by low-born councillors. Henry was the aggressor, severely frightened by the strength of the rebellion and determined on savage retribution. Many men from both counties were executed.
Not far from where my brothers live, the men of Horncastle murdered Raynes, the Bishop of Lincoln’s hated chancellor and a clerk called Wolsey. Both these men are buried in the churchyard at Horncastle. Those executed for their part in the uprising have no graves. That is the distant past.
The recent past flew overhead from its home at RAF Coningsby. One of the few remaining Lancaster bombers, the planes that carried out many raids of World War 2, including the Dambusters’. The aircraft is a
wonderful sight and beautiful to hear. I remember my mother, who lived close to the Lincolnshire air bases during the war, telling me how she would watch the squadrons fly over the village on their way to Germany and how the authorities “hid” bombs in the bottom of local hedgerows so that all the weaponry was not in one place and could not be destroyed in a single raid.
Last year, I visited the Moehne Dam, taking a boat trip onto the lake, following the path of the Lancasters as they dived for the water, tried to avoid the flak and bounce their bombs up to the dam wall. It was a sobering experience, especially when we are now told that the dams’ raid didn’t really do that much damage to the German war machine.
On a Sunday in 2011, I stood on the site where men killed each other in 1536 and looked up at a beautiful machine that spewed death from the skies in 1943. We all think history is so distant, but the truth is that if we took the opportunity to take time out and look around, it surrounds us. It has fashioned our lives and our freedoms. Please don’t ever tell me history doesn’t matter.