Accessing the Past
On World Book day March 25, 1999 in a Folkestone bookshop situated on the Southern English coast, I discovered the photograph of a long dead Confederate soldier. The book coincidentally opened at the precise page, the name coincidentally was my name and the face coincidentally was my face, it was all far too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence!
Gazing into the looking glass of time I spied a familiar reflection; for I recognised the person in the picture. Incredibly he appeared to be me, me as I was 138 years ago in another time and another place. Then over the next two years with research and the use of emotional memory painting, the whole story unfolded in vivid emotional Technicolor. I had always felt that I did not belong in this time or place, a common feeling that many of us often have. This confusion of identity had reigned supreme in my life for 44 years, but now all that had changed.
With the discovery of the photograph and its associated story nothing in my life would ever be the same again. Suddenly all became clear, I had been right all along, my feelings and emotions had not betrayed me. I realised then, that this odyssey of understanding had begun some 35 years ago, when in the playground as a small 10 old I spied something familiar; the bright pristine images of a long forgotten war that happened then a century ago.
The year was 1964 and the conflict of a hundred years previous was that of the American Civil War. Coincidentally it was exactly 100 years to the day that a Private soldier named Alexander Baillie Kell, was fighting desperately in the ranks of the 5th Georgia Cavalry, as the epic Battle for Atlanta was about to reach its horrifying summer climax. The Civil War was to redefine the destiny of America and with it shape the major events of World history up until the present day. For we are still living with the reverberating aftershocks of the emotional trauma of that titanic conflagration. Little was I to know then that I myself might be one of those reverberating aftershocks, fall out from the bloodiest war in American history.
The craze that summer of 1964 in the playground was for commemorative centennial bubble gum cards and Confederate money, issued by a company called simply AB&C. The bright red three-penny waxed packets held the promise of two or three cards, some Confederate dollar bills and a flat stick of pink sweet scented bubble gum. Most of my contemporaries avidly collected and traded the money, but for me though, it was the cards that were important, those terrible bloody images held a haunting fascination as if rekindling a long lost forgotten memory that dwelt deep in my psyche.
In mute testament to their power I still have those precious icons, all these years later. In the end I collected two and a half sets of the 88 cards. I read and re-read the Civil War News on the backs of the cards, all the names, events and characters seemed some how very familiar. As 1964 came to a close, interest waned with my contemporaries and I scooped up the surplus dollar bills, often simply swapping them for sweets. I studied and learned the details of the war, the place names, battles and Generals with their many victories and gory defeats.
My attention had been captured, I had gathered the familiar to me and I had unknowingly found the key to my inner being. Spurred on by a hitherto unknown fervour I hurriedly began saving my pocket money and rushed headlong to the shops each Saturday. I bought up little boxes of plastic soldiers, with which to recreate the scenes of long lost carnage. Sundays were spent in the front room playing with my new acquisitions. Old battles where re-contested with vigour and elan, old scores were settled and history rewritten. I had discovered the art of war games.
The armies got bigger and the soldiers increased from 20 millimetre to the larger more gratifying 54 millimetre scale, but this was still not enough. War gaming as a lone pursuit was interesting, but far from satisfying, I needed a compatriot in arms. A friend was found, a one Dave Pilcher, a tall lanky red headed lad that looked in lean build every inch a Confederate veteran. He introduced me to the Confederate High Command a newly formed re-enactment group. This was an astonishing discovery, I had found that there were others like me! I was not alone in my passionate feelings for this historical conflict. So at the tender age of twelve I proudly enlisted in the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, Mosby’s Rangers - the legendary Gray Ghosts. Yet coincidentally it was the Confederate cavalry, absolutely perfect! For me it had to be the cavalry, the yellow facings, the grey uniforms and the horses; specifically nothing else would do.
Many letters were written, figures painted and artefacts gathered. The collection grew and grew taking over my whole room as it became more than just another hobby. Barry Chalkley (middle color photograph), a guy that I knew just from a photo, was the Commander of the romantically entitled, Virginia Brigade, made up of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry and the Stuart Horse Artillery. Pat Stanton an ex-paratrooper with cape) and the Sergeant Major of the 43rd was a young solicitor I befriended by the name of John Cullis (with shotgun). I even persuaded my somewhat bemused mother and father to allow him to visit on several occasions. I was in awe of John as he donned his uniform, correct in every detail. The boots were hand made and designed from a pair worn by General George Armstrong Custer from an old photograph. Pride of place however went to his flag, the Confederate Stars and Bars; it had cost the princely sum of £24.00, which was an absolute fortune in those days! But I thought it was worth every penny as I saw it fluttering gaily in the breeze. I was so impressed that despite not being able to sow I set about making my own copy of it much to my father's amazement. Fortunately for posterity John left a permanent record of the events for archival evidence, as he owned an expensive colour Polaroid camera.
One sunny day 1968, at an Easter Civil War camp in Dargate’s Wood, Chatham, I donned his uniform over my home dyed sky blue trousers, and posed for a memorable prophetic picture. A picture that I shall forever treasure during this lifetime: Baillie the Confederate cavalryman breathed again!
The smell of the campfire, the sleeping in the open, the camaraderie all seemed so familiar. I went home intoxicated by the experience and started to make my own uniforms and equipment. With little money I enlisted the help of my school friends and together we tramped the woodlands of Kent, building fortified camps, especially in the area known as Blean woods just north of Canterbury. After a year I managed to persuade my colleagues to help make a Civil War film. For this I built a full size working field gun. I had already completed a working musket, which actually fired, but the cannon would be even more spectacular in the film. It was in my back garden at this time, that I commissioned my Canadian friend Gordon Whyte as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Confederate Cavalry. Once again all captured on photographs taken at the time, thank goodness. He was the most enthusiastic of my friends and was about to leave for boarding school in Hastings. I wanted him to carry a permanent reminder of our adventures and so in an intense.
The smell of the campfire, the sleeping in the open, the camaraderie all seemed so familiar. I went home intoxicated by the experience and started to make my own uniforms and equipment. With little money I enlisted the help of my school friends and together we tramped the woodlands of Kent, having adventures and building fortified camps, especially in an area known as Blean woods just north of Canterbury. After a year I managed to persuade my fellow classmates to make a Civil War film, for which, I built a full size working field gun. I had already built a working musket with bayonet in my wood and metal work classes at school, but the cannon would look even more spectacular in the film.
Coincidentally it was in my back garden at this time, that I commissioned my Canadian friend Gordon Whyte as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Confederate Cavalry, this can be seen captured on the photographs taken at the time. He was the most enthusiastic of my friends and was about to leave for boarding school in Hastings. I wanted him to carry a permanent reminder of our adventures and so in an intense emotional state I wrote out the commission in cursive script, signed it and sealed it with bright red wax. It was then presented in a formal ceremony; I played the part of the Colonel commanding the regiment and Gordon, as we now know became in essence Baillie. At the time I had no conscious knowledge that I had just re-enacted and corrected the most crucial episode of Baillie's tragic past. The commission was everything to him and if it had come to pass then all would have been so very different.
When completed the cannon was test fired using a Sodium IV Chlorate weed killer and sugar mixture most gratifyingly the barrel belched forth a ten foot long yellow flame towards the unsuspecting neighbours for some considerable time! In later years my father confided that this moment, was one of his most vivid memories of me. Whilst reading the paper after a hard morning at work, the whole of the lounge lit up bright yellow. Springing to his feet he looked out the window to see the cannon in action with his son proudly looking on.
Sodium IV Chlorate played a large part in my life as I diversified into rocketry for my school science project. The space race of the 60's had fired the imagination of the planet's youth and I was an ardent practising disciple of the technology. It was also at about this time that I found quite by chance that I had a natural affinity for horses. Specifically that I knew exactly how to ride, without ever having had a single lesson. By comparison later my motorbike although fun seemed cold, tame and soul less compared to the mystic bond between a horse and its rider.
Gradually all these childhood antics faded from memory as normal life took over. I graduated, married and became a teacher of Science. Later I gained promotion, had a near brush with death and became deeply interested in Physics. Yet all the while the Confederate cavalryman within hovered, waiting silently in the background, until the glorious moment I stepped into Waterstone’s Bookshop, Folkestone, coincidentally on World Book Day. My ten year old daughter Harriet was absorbed in looking for an Agatha Christie novel, when somehow in a moment of serendipity I was attracted to a book containing Civil War photographs, Private Soldiers and Public Heroes. With an air of casual apprehension I opened the book; there to my incredulous amazement was the name Baillie.
I had spent 35 years vainly looking in hope of finding some small connection or link to do with my name and the Civil War. Yet here was also a photograph! Strangely I had always had a reoccurring premonition that I might one day find myself in an old Civil war photograph, now it had actually come true. But this was far beyond my expectations, a single full-face portrait and a biography. Being prudent and entirely out of character, I shut the book and left the shop not wishing to purchase a whole book for just one photograph. Over the next few days the creeping realisation that this was more than just a coincidence drew me back to the shop. I finally purchased the book and then on closer inspection realised just how exactly the physical features of Baillie looked like my own, an exact mirror image. It was astonishing, it felt electrifying, as if I had just won the lottery several times over; the chances of finding the photo were incalculable. Yet it was real! I hurried home and not knowing how to break the news to my wife Pauline, I nonchalantly commented whilst watching the 6 o'clock news, “Oh by the way, have you seen this?”
My normally dear ever-sceptical wife upon viewing the image exclaimed instantly, “That’s you! Do you think that it is you?”
“No I'm not really sure?” I replied in a faltering voice, not wishing to upset her. Then as I read and re-read the brief personal history of Baillie penned by the article's author Dr Norman C Delaney, I realised that it was a concise outline description of my own personality, character and interests. In a combined moment of euphoric revelation I was acutely aware that all my formulated theories, models and ideas as to how the Universe was constructed had just become very close up and personal.
With that realisation the penny finally dropped, I gazed at the face with its mirror like reflection a positive reversal and I welcomed home Baillie. Reunited with my past I accepted the joyous fact that his history was my history and that his life defined my life. His life and experiences delineated my entire being, explaining exactly who and what I am. The research on my other self continued, increased in magnitude and depth, culminating in the triumphal accessing of my subconscious memory through the interaction with a dear colleague and the production of many artworks based on what I now term, emotional painting.
This book is the product of the search for my inner self and the understanding of my place in the Universe. It is a unique record of the journey of two lifetimes, which shows that our greatest human anxiety, physical mortality, no longer needs to be feared. It conclusively demonstrates that our journey continues, for it may be argued that if our memories survive then so in essence do we.
It is the purpose of this book therefore to illustrate that we all continue to evolve and progress. For our core being does not dissipate on death. Our character, personality and emotional memory remain intact to continue another earthly journey. Many faiths embrace this idea, but lack the all-important scientific evidence. I have found that evidence. I am the case study and this work, will I hope lead to a do-it-yourself planetary revolution in thought, that for many is long over due
We stand poised on the brink of a new era of understanding, a revolution of the mind, the discovery of who and what we are. The time is now and the paradigms of dogma are evaporating in the daylight of a new reality. And so I present to you my magnum opus: Rebel Spirit ; evidence for the continuity of consciousness.
This scientific discovery with its associated emotional story is a complete record of one of the most important experiments ever undertaken.