Derek’s works were prints, one postcard from Uncle Harold from the front with his comrades in the 5th Seaforth Highlanders sent on the 12th August 1916 merged with an image of Harold in his garden after the war.
This collaboration took me on a journey through Harold’s correspondence and a remarkable family archive. I felt the responsibility lay heavily to do justice to this brave and relentlessly chipper young man. In his honour I devised an epistolary piece that quoted from his Harold’s letters and briefly Wilfred Owen.
I offer it to you now to honour the lives of Uncle Harold, his young comrades and Derek Rae at this time of remembrance.
The camera lies.
3589 Pte H.Rae
5th Seaforth Highlanders 12th August 1915
Vaporous images merge, to one side a proud Seaforth Highlander; Derek’s Uncle Harold. Kilted and companioned by nameless comrades, this behind the lines postcard bears no sign of young men’s guts, or boys buried by mud and shelling:
‘dug out very much shaken.’
Uncle Harold is a master of understatement. Fifteen yards between the bags from Harold to Fritz, mother’s rabbit pie is enjoyed. Yet above the quagmire star shells turn night into day - a son et lumière of Somme Follies. When the Mess hut is hit:
‘80 eggs have become casualties.’
Between Harold’s lines we put our head above the parapet and understand the fear of night and light and sniper assassins. Fritz is keeping tally on his Mauser butt - an iniquitous reckoning.
‘Chance’s strange arithmetic…’
Strange arithmetic spared Harold for an inter-war of welcome laughter, house parties and marrying Doth. There is no tally stick for his nightmares. Decades on they are still repeating like the Pathé Gazette in Uncle Harold’s shocking picture-house slumber. Uncle never speaks of war. Later, evacuated to Ilfracombe, young Derek crawls about the floor with parts of incendiaries, his roller skates acting as bomb floats, playing.
Trusting yourself and Ma are quite well.
Your old pal, H’
The camera lies.
 Insensibility by Wilfred Owen