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Ripples of Respect

by Justin Robinson, translated by Yaroslav K.

© copyright Justin Robinson  email:

When a soldier dies it is a little like a stone thrown into a pond or river. The ripples start moving out as rings stretching as if to reach a shore. And they keep moving silently advancing until that stone settles gently on the bottom in the darkness below.


Once or twice a year I join a collection of experienced fishermen and we act as guides to British servicemen and women from the UK Armed Forces. We take them trout fishing to distract them from their hospital rehabilitation for wounds and injuries visible or even invisible.

We meet at a beautiful but small lake cut into a steep but small valley between two hills in Wiltshire – home to many soldiers for generations. And also one of the most historic places where ancient tribal chiefs lie buried in earth mounds for thousands of years.


That particular day, the sun was out early and mist coming off the metallic shine of the water – insects already fluttering on the surface and the occasional splash of a fish swirling back into the water.  I met a soldier about forty and could see nothing obviously wrong with him. He was polite, quiet and unhurried. He said he knew nothing about fishing, that he just wanted to be in the country.


We faced the water together – it was like a gigantic blue and turquoise gemstone with sloping banks of grass and a steep cliff opposite with huge beech trees growing high and hanging over the water’s edge in places. Nearby we could see fish moving patiently but there were darker holes and places where the reflection hid all from view. I smiled at him and he slowly returned my smile, surprised I wasn’t speaking either. With a nod, I demonstrated the techniques and held his arm as he tried to copy this. It was all just very quiet and calm and he tried casting and I hardly moved but nodded occasionally or touched his arm.


Then, rather to my surprise, there was a fish tugging on his line. I had to speak then, start giving orders. But he was not too worried and the fish came to the net after a splashing struggle. It flopped in the sun, flashing silver and pink sides like a huge jewel shining light back into our faces. I grasped it firmly and it lay panting with one eye staring back. I asked my soldier if he wanted to take it back to the hospital for supper as I knew they would cook it for him. His faced creased and he paused and I felt a different mood. “No” he said. “Please. Please put it back so it may live”. He sounded like the words were an effort, a load he pulled from within. I reassured him and the trout eagerly slithered with a few ripples and sank below out of sight with a strong flick of its tail.


I looked up from where I was kneeling on the bank. Without looking at him, I simply asked him if it was fun. He gazed back and his humour returned. Rather cautiously he nodded. It was more fun than he expected, he said. After that, he started talking. But instead of telling me about his job, his regiment or his family – he just asked me about my occasional experience with the armed forces, my own job and how I took my own children fishing when they were small. He was happy to talk about me. But not him. I sensed he carried some kind of anxiety but we had established fishing was ok and he was happy enough at this moment.


So we lived for this moment and as we fished together taking turns and even releasing some more fish, I rambled a bit and mentioned my father had fought in Korea. And now all these people were being killed in Ukraine – many civilians seemed to be targeted too. And I helped teach English to refugees. He stopped casting the fishing rod and gazed at the tall trees opposite and glanced up at the sky.


Then he spoke: “That’s interesting. Have you heard of Scott Sibley?”


I knew of this volunteer soldier, with the International Legion of Ukraine. He was a professional British soldier who had been killed recently by mortar fire and was the first officially recorded British volunteer to die. Although I knew of others.


He added: “He was my friend”.


I said: “I am most terribly sorry. I heard about him.”


The soldier replied: “He had only recently retired from the army. I really don’t know why he left his family, his daughter to go to Ukraine”. His words were now tinged with despair.


I waited a bit. I remembered how soft and gentle Scott Sibley’s face was in a photograph, even in uniform. A sort of gently giant with a shy smile. And he had been killed defending Mikolaiv.


Then, I said “I understand him”.


And in that moment, my own voice was full of emotion; it arrived from nowhere and I felt weighed down and deeply sad. The soldier glanced back at me sympathetically. Now it was I  that was needing some kind of support.


Trying to be helpful, he changed perspective and added:


“Putin seems to believe all Russian speakers everywhere should be part of his new Russian Federation”.


I answered with anger, a steady bitter collection of my own words:


“Putin doesn’t even really believe that. He’s just a cunt!”


I was shocked at my sworn word; it was like I had suddenly drawn a dagger in the sunshine.


We stood side by side, the fishing forgotten, the sun on our backs and staring at the beautiful water, but not feeling any comfort. We felt the pain of loss. He missed his friend. And I now felt the loss of this man I had never met. But whose ripples moved towards me as through water. Towards us both in fact.


If I had looked down like a red kite hovering overhead, I think there was a moment when it was hard to say if the ripples were moving out to the bank or back towards the centre of the splash. It’s a second when you can’t tell if they might reverse back to the starting point, like our wishing something had never happened. To rewind and rescue a moment in time - even when you know in your heart that it won’t happen like that. But the instinct was to bring him back to life.


And the recovering soldier standing beside myself as a volunteer with a tear in his eyes; together we raised Scott Sibley between us. Just for a moment.


And I can’t honestly say that stone has settled on the bottom. Or the ripples paused. Even now.

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