“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Gandalf, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Every November 11th, I am drawn to my most-beloved author, J.R.R. Tolkien, who gave us “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” My books are well worn from use over the years.
In his teens (1911), J.R.R. Tolkien formed an unofficial, semi-secret reading club named the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (T.C.B.S.) along with three friends: Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman. With the onset of WWI, all four joined the army, serving in separate units. In the forward to “The Lord of the Rings” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
“One has personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead.”
December 1916, when J.R.R. Tolkien was in the Le Touquet hospital recovering from a severe trench fever, he received a letter from one of his T.C.B.S. reading club companions, Geoffrey Smith.
“My dear John Ronald,
My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight – I am off on duty in a few minutes – there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you my dear John Ronald, and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot.
Geoffrey B. Smith
Geoffrey Smith and Rob Gilson did not survive the war. Christopher Wiseman, who served in the navy, survived and remained a lifelong close friend. J.R.R. Tolkien fulfilled his friend’s request to “say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them.”
Today, as we remember those who have served in armed conflicts, may we live our lives to honour their legacy and live in a way that commemorates their sacrifice…