Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Brain Damage

Brain Damage

After my brain got shrunk by chemotherapy and then boiled by hard radiation, I lost my capacity for night navigation. Put me on a dark road at night and I can't find my way back home. Even more alarmingly, wake me up in my bedroom in one of the darker hours of the night, and I'm lost. Marooned. Can't find the door out.

I fixed the bedroom problem by mapping the room in my mind. Not so hard to do because the family bedroom that I always sleep in is a rectangle. All I have to remember is to lie flat on my back on the futon and stretch out my right arm. My fingertips will now be resting against the line of build-in cupboards, and I can follow that line of cupboards to the door out.

So, the other night, I was very unsettled to wake in my bedroom and to find, whoops, I'm lost again. Can't make sense out of this. What's this floor to wall window doing here? Don't remember that!

After a couple of really disconcerting minutes, I finally clicked. Not in my own bedroom. No, not at all. Instead, I'm up in Gunma, sleeping in the tatatami-mat room which opens directly off the kitchen in my mother-in-law's house.

I worked out how to get to the door, and got there, but I was seriously alarmed for a moment.

The next day, I took three-year-old Cornucopia out for a walk. We went past a stable where they keep cows, and I explained to Corny how it is with cows and little girls. The cows start by eating the hair, because it looks like grass. Then they realize that little girls are salty, and they love salt, so then they really go to town. Gao! GAO! (Munch! MUNCH!)

I don't think Corny had been expecting to have an adventure that day, but suddenly she was.

Then, suddenly, less amusingly, so was I, because I had gotten the pair of us lost.

Since returning to Japan, I'd at least twice been to the cow barn and back, but now, on the return journey, I was lost.

There were a few people on the streets, so I could ask for directions. But, in this pretty featureless landscape, it's difficult to think of a place which is known to me (once I'm there, I'm oriented) but also to the average local resident.

My brain still being at least partly functional, I hit on a good location: the library. A little out of my way, but I really do know the way back to my mother-in-law's house from there.

So we got home.

I passed that test, despite having a damaged brain, but failed another, which was to untangle, in the privacy of my own mind, the genealogy associated with the closely annotated set of old photographs I had received recently in the mail. Sorry, no can do.

However, I've started nibbling at the problem. And now I'm going to go online to see if I can find any details about two people upstream in my family line.

One is Walter Butler, and, sorry, I can't see how he fits into the picture, though, when I take another shot at the paperwork, it will all fall into place (probably). What I know about Walter B. is that he was killed in the First World War, which doesn't really seem fair, as my understanding is that he, personally, did not start that war. Nor was he the guy who decided that his nation, England, should be part of it.

The other one is simpler. Gilbert John Cook, born 1893. He is my father's father, which makes him my paternal grandfather. He didn't start the First World War either, but he, too, got dragged into it. Wasn't killed, but did get wounded. However, was lucky enough to recover so he could participate in the Somme. Which you wouldn't have wanted to miss, because it was one of the longest, bloodiest and most all-round horrific battles in the history of the human race.

(Sorry, looking at my notes, I think the brain damage may have done me in yet again. It seems, from re-reading my notes, that he got as far as the battle of the Somme in an unwounded fashion, but got wounded then.)

Anyway, apart from waging war on a bunch of Europeans who, personally, hadn't chosen to start the First World War either, my paternal grandfather worked quietly at the St Cuthbert's Paper Mill, then owned by the Inveresk Paper Company.

During the First World War he was in the Grenadier Guards.

My mission now is to see if I can find anything, anything at all, about the military careers of these two people who stand in my ancestral line, Walter Butler and Gilbert John Cook.

Gilbert John seems the easier, because I know that he was in the Grenadier Guards, so my first move is going to be to see if Wikipedia has an entry for the Grenadier Guards. And, if they do, is there an external link to an online repository of data on veterans?

Once more into the breach, dear brain, and fill the central cerebral fosse with the faces of our faceless English dead ...

(I had not plans to write a First World War poem, not this year, not ever, but maybe that is where this line of research is going to terminate.)

Okay ... Wikipedia ... Grenadier Guards ... instead of one entry, there are 707 ... I'd rather it were the other way round ... can't find any compact little list of external links ... okay, guess I will Google this ... about 750,000 pages for "Grenadier Guards" ...

You have to start somewhere, so I started with this page:


Prominent top right was this message:

Soldiers and members of their families looking for the most up to date information should be using the www.armynet.mod.uk version of this site.


Okay, on this site they invite you, if you are a relative of someone in the British army, to apply for guest membership of something which seems to be called ArmyNET.

""This is a monitored proprietary system for authorised users only. Access by unauthorised individuals is prohibited and is an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. If monitoring reveals evidence of misuse or criminal activity, it will be used to support disciplinary and/or legal proceedings.""

Better watch myself ...

If you want to sign up as a guest, there's a snag:

""This process requires you to have a sponsor who is already a full member of the ArmyNET community, for example, a serving soldier. You must know the ArmyNET username of your sponsor in order to complete your request to sign-up as a guest.""

Okay, scratch that. Where else can I look? British War Museum? I seem to think that there is such a place, the reason for so thinking is because I believe I once visited it, many years ago, in London. Let's see ...

Okay, welcome to the Imperial War Museum ...


Okay, and the London branch of the museum has a short and convenient page of links:


Links to links and links to links ... the Internet, the ever-self-complicating brain, or the nearest thing that we as a civilization have to it, begins to unfold ...

Can I short-circuit this search by looking simply for "Gilbert John Cook"? Well, nobody will shoot me if I try.

To my great surprise, I get two pages for that exact search. The snippets for these two say:

[RootsWeb: COOK-L [COOK-L] FW: Cook Family tree
More About GILBERT JOHN COOK: Records: Marraige Certificate show John Gilbert Children of GILBERT COOK and KATIE SCOVILLE are: i.WALTER M5 COOK, b. ...
archiver.rootsweb.com/th/read/COOK/1999-11/0941759411 - 14k - Cached - Similar pages]

[Staplehurst Marriages by Groom 1695 - 1792
... widow 1772 13 Oct GARNER William WOLLET Elizabeth Both OTP 1700 22 Oct GILBERT John COOK Elizabeth G: of Smarden, B: OTP 1779 19 Sep GILBERT Richard ...
freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~staplehurst/Mar_Groom_1695.htm - 56k - Cached - Similar pages]

I try the first one, drawn by the "Walter," which is my father's personal name, which he inherited from his father. I searched the page for "Walter" and came up with this:

Records: Marraige Certificate show John Gilbert
i.WALTER M5 COOK, b. February 1885, Santa Rosa, California; d. February
28, 1929, Paradise ,Eldorado Co, California.
Notes for WALTER M COOK:]

So far, I've drawn a blank. I'll rethink and try again another day. Now, before I go, a search for "somme" "grenadier guards". Doing this search, I find that the battle honours of the Grenadier Guards include the following:

"Somme (Baupaume). 28 Mar1918. Arras. 30 Mar 1945. Rhine. 12 Apr 1918. Hazebrouck. 23 Apr 1943 ."

While doing the same search, I also find that there is something called the Grenadier Guards Association, which I will Google next ...

And here we are:


A sister site is here:


Almost done for tonight. But, at a way of touching base with at least one of my forebears, I will take a quick look at the Wikipedia page for SOMME ... here is the guts of it in two paragraphs:

[In 1916 Somme was the location of one of the largest battles of World War I, with more than one million casualties. It is also one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The Allied forces attempted to break through the German lines along a 25-mile (40 km) front north and south of the River Somme in northern France. One purpose of the battle was to draw German forces away from the Battle of Verdun; however, by its end the losses on the Somme had exceeded those at Verdun.

While Verdun would bite deep in the national consciousness of France for generations, the Somme would have the same effect on generations of Britons. The battle is best remembered for its first day, 1 July 1916, on which the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead — the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army to this day. As terrible as the battle was for the British Empire and Canadian troops who suffered there, it naturally affected the other nationalities as well. One German officer famously described it as "the muddy grave of the German field army." By the end of the battle, the British had learned many lessons in modern warfare while the Germans had suffered irreplaceable losses. British historian Sir James Edmonds stated, "It is not too much to claim that the foundations of the final victory on the Western Front were laid by the Somme offensive of 1916."]

And night,
With its buckets of faceless faces,
Settles upon my face ...


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