Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Friday, 4 December 2015

NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

Walking with my little terrier, Holly, along the elm-lined avenue adjacent to what is now known as Cambridge Park, on the outskirts of St Peter Port, I paused to read an inscription on a granite commemorative stone erected in remembrance of the last duel fought in Guernsey in 1795. 
The inscription records the sad demise of one, Major Byng, who was killed near the spot.
It is reported that, on the morning of 13 February, prior to the duel, both protagonists carved their initials on a young elm tree adjacent to where the granite memorial now stands. That elm has since been cut down.
Very little information is available relating to the event, but I have been able to establish that the duel took place between two soldiers, Major William Byng and Army Surgeon, James Taylor, following an argument. 
The two had previously been on friendly terms. The confrontation began when Byng challenged Taylor for apparently disrespecting the National Anthem, an accusation that Taylor strongly refuted.
The encounter took place early on a chilly February morning. Pistols were the weapon of choice and, unusually, there were no Seconds present. 
The unfortunate Major was killed by a single shot to the head. 
I can find no record of what subsequently became of James Taylor.   
Cambridge Park, where many of the original elm trees still stand, was formerly known as L'Hyvreuse.






DUEL AT L’HYVREUSE 1795

The ancient elms were saplings then.
Two figures stand in morning mist with pistols raised aloft.
Picture them: straight-backed, as would become army men,
their jacket collars loose despite the cold.
With steady eyes, they bow, then muster back-to-back
like bookends with a library of insult held between them.
There are no Seconds here: no one to witness or to testify;
no one to pray, officiate or remonstrate.
With ornate pistols, slackly held, they pace away.
Each counts from one to twenty-one then turns.

A musket is a heavy brute: the heart a heavy heart that must destroy
one that, till yesterday, was friend.
A flintlock seems as fearsome as a blunderbuss
when faced at forty paces, little more:
it fascinates, the way an adder might when readying to strike.

Imagine it. You stare, a child again, into a well so deeply dark
it swallows, whole, your pounding heart,
and try to focus on the length of avenue that lies
between you and that other: the opponent with the awful eye.
Young elm trees stand like silent onlookers in swirling mist,
as startled starlings start up from the meadow’s edge.
You see a puff of smoke before you hear the crack,
a sound too frivolous, by far, to have the import that it does.
You see red earth exploding upwards towards your face.
Then there is silence.


 

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