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In Conclusion | The Penultimate Man – a Commemoration by Malcolm Hollingdrake

Malcolm Hollingdrake looks back on the event ‘The Penultimate Man,’ the WWI Centennial Commemoration at Harrogate Library this Nov. 10th, 2018. A poignant afternoon filled with remarkable stories, singing, and narrations by those who, voluntarily and freely, came together to make this a memory to be cherished – a heartfelt tribute to those, who gave their lives for our freedom. 

Nov 11, 1918 – 2018

It was on a Monday, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918, that the war to end all wars came to an end that was for the many, a blessed relief. The indelible physical and mental scars would be carried by those from all sides of the conflict, making their return to a normal life, seem uncertain and confused. It was a period in time when much was expected from the mere mortal.

The Penultimate Man – Commemoration Event

by Malcolm Hollingdrake

The brightest memory fades faster than the dullest ink
Claudia Rankine

  Memories were made so we may have roses in December. My mum wrote these words in my autograph book when I was still in primary school. Although the words made sense it was not until much later when she passed away did their true significance bring comfort; I remember her daily.

Time and its passing is a strange phenomenon. When you are in the full flush of youth, time seems to drag its feet like a reluctant dog confronted with a walk on a wet day, but as we grow older the same time seems to pass in the blink of an eye.

However, it is during this passing of time, when life and its many challenges both good and bad are experienced, a time when we live, love and hate. It’s also when we take time out to reflect, to look back at what we have done with our time and this is never a waste, it is an important use of this valuable commodity… As the saying goes: God made time and we are lucky as he made lots of it.

On Sunday 11th November this year I did just that, I sat and reflected on the ten months to the day it started. I had the idea of releasing ‘The Penultimate Man’, a short story set at the conclusion of WW1, as an eBook with the royalties donated to a military charity. The Royal British Legion were delighted with the prospect. They even sent over their logo to be attached to the book’s cover with promises of support and marketing. The eBook was produced. I also thought of an audiobook and Nicholas Camm, the narrator of the DCI Bennett series published by Bloodhound Books, kindly worked with me and that too was soon available through Amazon.

It was then, knowing that I would be laying a wreath on my great uncle’s grave, a casualty of WW1 who died 26th September 1918, that the idea came to me of producing ‘The Penultimate Man’ as a commemoration in its own right.

On the 10th November at 1 pm in the beautiful building that houses Harrogate Library, I was surrounded by fellow authors, singers and friends who would perform a tribute to those who had given their tomorrow so that we could enjoy the freedom we have today.

Sophie Lawson travelled from Scotland, Ruth Wade came from Cambridge, Rob Ashman, Hull, Nicholas Camm, Lancaster, John Drakes, York. These people along with Colin Smith of Bose Professional who came with all of his sound equipment from Leeds to give of his time and vast experience for free to make sure every word and note was as clear and as crisp as possible. All were willing to give their time and skill to make the Commemoration worthy of those it addressed.

And how was it? Well, the written comments speak volumes and I include them here for you:

Feedback cards:

“An excellent memorable event that will be with me each time I come to the library.”
“A most moving event. Wonderful readings and poems. Loved the singing too.”

“Many thanks for a beautiful and emotional occasion. Perfectly conceived and executed.”

“Very emotional, but so well presented. The singer Sophie incredible – powerful words spoken so well.”
“Very emotional, very apt for the 100th anniversary. Really enjoyed it.”

“It was lovely and moving and thought-provoking.”

“I would not have missed it for the world, so beautiful, very moving, it brought tears to my eyes. Unforgettable and perfectly organised!”

“A wonderful tribute to the fallen in the Great War and all conflict afterwards. Thank you.”

“Thank you for a wonderful commemoration of the First World War – so memorable, heartfelt and moving. I’m so glad I was able to attend.”

“A very sensitive, moving tribute. Beautifully orchestrated. Well done to you all but esp. Malcolm and Debbie. Thank you.”

“Sombre, moving and poetic.”

“An evocative and often emotional event to commemorate the ending of an episode in human history that was ultimately so futile but which also demonstrated the noble and indomitable nature of the common man.”

“The best part was unrehearsed, the child’s joyous laughter as the poppies fell. It gave me hope amidst the tragedy.”

“Overwhelmingly beautiful. Could not be better or better presented and coordinated. Thank you.”

“Very moving tribute to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. I am so glad I was invited by my sister to come with her today. This will stay with me for a very long time.”

“Wonderful!! Thank you, Harrogate for allowing this moving tribute.”

“Fantastic – well worth the journey from Scotland. Well done everyone.”
“An exceptional presentation although emotional.”

“A great tribute. A good variety of songs, poems and readings provided a vivid description of the experiences of those affected by WW1. Well done!”

“Excellent talk with very moving words.”
“Wonderful afternoon,  very moving. The people who took part made it truly superb.”

“Excellent! Moving, thought-provoking. Well organised. Emotional. A superb event.”

“A wonderful event in commemoration of the centenary of WW1. Very moving indeed. A special setting in the library. Thank you.”

“Beautifully moving.”
“Extremely moving.”

“Beautifully presented. Clear, well-balanced. The professional tech help with the sound certainly paid off.’

“Absolutely amazing. A huge thank you to everyone involved in creating such a heart-warming afternoon.”

“Very, very moving, the WW1 explained well, the horrors not simplified. We could actually feel the mud, the trenches, the fear. Well presented, thank you.”

“Words are not enough to express the emotion of the event and the whole concept of 1914-1918. Thank you, Malcolm.”

“A wonderful, moving event/”
“A wonderful story and a wonderful day. Thank you.”

“An amazing, touching and respectful afternoon. We are so pleased to have been a part of The Penultimate Man event.”

“A truly beautiful, fitting remembrance event. Extraordinary personal and moving items.”
“An incredibly moving tribute to the fallen.”

I am sure you will agree from what you have just read that the Commemoration was a success. It truly was and on reflection, this makes me thankful to have achieved what I had set out to do: to pay my respects and say thank you, one hundred years after the Armistice to a man I never knew and in doing so, remembering and thanking the millions of others who suffered during those long four years.

I cherish what is locked away in my memory, the time when talented individuals came together for a common good and produced a faultless and unrehearsed Commemoration that will be remembered by many. On the eleventh hour on the eleventh day in 2019, people will remember. They will remember not only the fallen but they will recall the words and songs of this day, they will remember ‘The Penultimate Man’. I would like to think they will be forever be heard annually within the library walls.

So let us pray that those moments in which we create memories to reflect upon we will be able to see in our mind’s eye my mother’s roses in December or indeed those cascading poppies in November. May they also give us an ability to see our mistakes, to act upon them and not make them again and again.

If only the war to end all wars had given us that simple wisdom; a strength and the ability to make wars a thing of the past.

Remember lest we forget!

Malcolm Hollingdrake

About Malcolm Hollingdrake

Malcolm Hollingdrake Author Image

If you are born in a library no wonder you have it in you to be an author one day. That is what happened to Malcolm Hollingdrake and although he took a circuitous route via a teaching career, once challenged to do so, he started writing vigorously. Malcolm has written a number of successful short stories but is foremost known as the author of the DCI Bennett crime thriller series. Malcolm enjoys collecting works from Northern artists. The author cherishes his home county, which is why his crime novels are set in Harrogate.

Malcolm Hollingdrake on Social Media:
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The Harrogate Crime Series:
#1 Only the Dead – my review
#2 Hell’s Gate – – my review
#3 Flesh Evidence – – my review
#4 Game Point  – my review
#5 Dying Art  – –  my review
#6 Crossed Out – – my review
#7 The Third Breath  – – my review

Each book can be read as a stand-alone – but I recommend starting with the first to get to know DCI Cyril Bennett and his beloved Harrogate.

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