Friday, 7 November 2008

Just One Of Millions - A Tale of World War One

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Our day of Remembrance is drawing near.

I have been following the BBC series "My Family At War" in which celebrities trace what happened to their ancestors during World War One.

The other night it was the turn of T.V. presenter, Kate Silverton, to trace her Great-Grandfather. She was surprised to learn that he had volunteered at the age of thirty-seven. The professional researcher who was helping, informed her that this was an advanced age as most of the men fighting would be aged from eighteen to thirty. He told her that the other men would probably have called him "Grandad". He would have to have been drilled for twelve hours per day, carrying a full pack, then be shipped overseas to face horrendous conditions. Kate was told that it would be very hard on a man of that age.

I immediately thought of my own maternal Grandfather, William. His war began when he was forty! Whether he volunteered at that age is not known. He might have been called up because the casualty lists had been ghastly and the country had to use every able-bodied man.

Anyway, as my Grandfather had been born in 1876 and entered the Artillery in 1916, there is no doubt that he would have been forty years of age. A quiet man, a tea salesman, no military experience whatsoever. How hard it must have been for him then!

I have tried in vain to find his service record but to no avail. A huge fire in 1940, caused by the Blitz, destroyed nearly all the records and what was left was subjected to water damage from trying to extinguish the flames. What records remain are called the "burnt records" and mostly relate to officers. I have searched for his pension records but William Stanley was a common name and there are so many of them. Without an army number, it is impossible. The same problem arises with the medal records. He would have received a medal, they all did, just for being there. I believe there was also a Victory medal. Once again, his army number would be required, something I do not know and have no way of obtaining.

We do not know much of his army career, what battles he had experienced and where he had served previously, but we do know that he was at Passchendaele, otherwise known as the 3rd battle of Ypres in Belgium. This battle lasted from July through to November of 1917. Conditions were appalling. There was constant rain and the continual bombardment of shells had destroyed the natural drainage system. The place was a quagmire. Not a tree left standing, not a blade of grass. The mud was so deep in places that men would vanish into it without a trace, their bodies never to be found.

Then there were the trenches, alive with rats, filled with water, the appalling stench - and all the men carried lice. The lice spread Trench Fever which went undiagnosed at the time. Men were continually scratching, the lice faeces entered their bloodstreams causing swollen joints, fever, debility. In some cases the effects lasted for life. All this my Grandfather had to endure at the age of 41. In fact he "celebrated" his 41st birthday during that battle.

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The pictures I have posted are of that actual battlefield. So many thousands died there. My Grandfather must have seen men he had come to call friends, fall all around him. He probably expected to be killed at any moment. He would have thought of his wife and children back home, worried how they would cope if his life was lost.

His war was to end differently. Gas was used by the enemy in that battle as in many others, where mustard gas and nerve gas was used against our troops. At first there were no gas-masks, all the men could do was urinate on one of their socks and tie that over their faces. By 1917 all men had gas-masks. It might have been such a sudden gas attack, he did not have time to put his on. He was hit by the gas and hit hard. He became a casualty and was stretchered away from the battlefield.

He was blinded for some time, his lungs were affected. He was invalided home. For him the war was over. He was one of the lucky ones. He came back, unlike so many millions of others. I am very proud of him.

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My Grandfather.

He was able to return to civilian life and pick up the pieces. He was never the same, always quiet, he became quieter, he aged in more than just years. He did tell my Grandmother some of what went on. He refused to discuss it with anyone else. She told us he was haunted by nightmares long afterwards and would wake up yelling and sweating.

Just a few years later, the world was at war again. Since then, there have been few years when a war was not being waged somewhere or other, Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia - to name but three.

There are those who think we should forget. World War One started over ninety years ago. Why should we continue the yearly Remembrance Day? There are only three living British survivors of that war now. My answer? We should always remember. The likes of World War One had never been seen before. This was the "war to end all wars". It was not.

Today our troops are still laying down their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We must continue to remember them, to ensure our children and grandchildren remember them and all those who have died in conflicts throughout the world, across the intervening years since my Grandfather's war, those who did their duty, those who paid the supreme sacrifice.

Wear your poppy with pride and always remember, they bought our freedom with their blood.

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When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today.



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A British Cemetery at Passchendaele

28 comments:

  1. A touching entry. Although wars are still being fought in difficult conditions such as the heat, dryness and mountainous terrain of Iraq and Afganistan at least the troop today have much better equipment to deal with the horrors of war. It must have been absolutely terrible for every man involved in WWI and it costs nothing to remember their sacrifices for without them, none of us would be here today. I have bought and wear my Poppy with Pride and grateful thanks. Love B x

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  2. What a story, your grandfather has such a commanding presence in his photograph. I cannot imagine living through or enduring the horrors of war such as your describe. A very interesting entry - may your grandfather Rest in Peace, he was a brave man regardless whether he volunteered or was drafted.

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  3. Great post Jeannette, it's so important to remember those who didn't come home, and those that did, your description of life in the trenches is very vivid and I cannot even begin to imagine the horrors they suffered.

    Hope you are feeling better.

    Take care

    Yasmin
    xx

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  4. Lovely post for today Jeannette, I too had a relation an Uncle who fought at Ypres he was severely wounded and left for dead when they searched later he was found and taken to hospital but was affected for the rest of his life, he was in the Scots Guards he lived until he was in his eighties but unfortunatly lost both his legs in later life due to what happened at Ypres what happened there must have been horrendous His name was William Brown a very quiet and kind man. Thank you for your lovely entry. Love Joan

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  5. This is the reason why I am searching my family history. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Have a wonderful weekend.
    Laini

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  6. Hi Jeanette. The horrors of wars !!!! When will we ever learn!..............

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  7. War is a terrible thing. We should remember what happened if for no other reason than to remind us why we should not go to war. If only there were other means to battle things out. The terrible things our men have gone through were so heartbreaking. I'm praying for peace and I will never forget. God Bless them for their selflessness and willingness to protect their loved ones. 'On Ya'-ma

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  8. What a great entry about your Grandfather. Just look at him in that picture. I think the history and memories have been lost to this generation. W3e should never forget. Marlene

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  9. Very very interesting, Jeannette, but also very sad. I cannot even imagine what your grandfather went through. What a brave man! No, we should never forget, it is important to remember, to learn from the past. But have we really learned something? Have a nice weekend. Ciao. Antonella

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  10. very moving jeannette well written from the heart as always love mort x

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  11. Hi Jeannette, a very very moving piece of writing. Big hugs to you Love Lainey xxxx
    http://lainey-lainesworld.blogspot.com/

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  12. this is a wonderful post! i always enjoy reading stories from the heart. {{}}
    God bless them all.
    have a good weekend, hope you're feeling better.
    huggies...

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  13. Evening Jeannette, Thank-you so much for your story. I asked my own dad one day why he did not serve as his brother had. Father said it was because he had flat feet.
    I also found out at my Uncle's funeral exactly what he did and he was a dentist assistant in the POW camps near Calgary. MOst of the prisoners had NO desire to escape as their conditions were way more comfortable than at home.
    Chuck's Uncle had only landed in Europe for a few days when he was captured. He must have been quite a tenacious fellow as he escaped from the POW camp 13 times.

    We MUST NEVER forget...the sacrifices that were made by so many

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  14. I can never forget, yet some day i would love to see this world without wars. loved this entry! thank you!~kbear

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  15. Thank you for sharing your grandfather's story! He was indeed a hero, as was all the men that protected the world from domination!

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  16. Just checking in with your journal since getting back. What a moving entry to come back too. I can only imagine the horrors of war and living through them. Your GrandFather was a hero, as were many, and I'm so honored to have read his story. Thank you for remembering all those who did not come home....God Bless everyone.

    Pooh Hugs,
    Linda

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  17. Jeannette, I just love your entries. You always bring me to another place and time. I love the way you tell your stories. Write a book dear lady, I promise I will be the first to buy it!
    Love
    Ada

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  18. What a wonderful entry Jeannette ,your Grandfathers story was similar to my Grandads ,He was a very quiet man after he came home too ,as my Gran would tell us ,thankyou for the fantastic graphics and pictures ..love Jan xx PS I have been posting too

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  19. That was very interesting Jeannette as the stories you tell always are. The photos of the war graves always bring a lump to my throat, there are just so many. It reminded me of my own Grandfather who was injured during the Battle of the Somme. I know it was his hip that was damaged and though he recovered his right leg was much shorter than the left and he walked with a very heavy limp. I remember him as a very stern man who barely smiled. Then again I should imagine his wartime experiences were somewhat to blame for that, I will never know. I think many men felt guilty for living when many of their comrades did not. They were all very brave men and should never, ever be forgotten. Not only the fallen from that war, but all wars.

    Love Sandra xxxx

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  20. This story touched my heart. So many of our male relatives who fought in WWII are dying, it is difficult to remember the "War to End All Wars." An uncle of mine served in both WWI and WWII. At the end of his life, he would often repeat stories of his war experiences.

    Such a waste of life and youth.

    :^) Jan the Gryphon
    http://gryph-wotd.blogspot.com

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  21. I can see the resemblance to Nathan in your grandfathers' photo. My father was in North Africa in World War II and he would never speak of the war. He was a quiet man and to be draughted into a war zone was too much for him. I think he found it so horrific, it must have been awful to see friends killed right next to you. War is a terrible thing, we don't seem to have learnt from it at all. God bless our troops who are still out there fighting. Jeannette xx

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  22. Great entry Jeannette, hope you're feeling better soon. Linda in Washington state

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  23. To forget any war is to forget the brave men who fought for us to live the lives we live today. Thank you for sharing this haunting tale of the effects of war and your grandfather. We shall never forget! (Hugs)Indigo

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  24. bejeweled120@yahoo.com11 November 2008 at 01:12

    A very moving entry Jeanette. You were lucky to be able to know your grandfather as I was too. He also served in the Army, he was in charge of a cassion, I know that he was in France for a while and also England...wouldn't it be something if our two grandfather's passed each other at some time? He was only 17 when he joined at that time when the troops came home if you were not a citizen you got your citizenship by serving in the military and thats what he did..he barely spoke English being from Greece but by the end of the war he could talk your socks off according to my Grandmother! I love when you intertwine history and real life people like this...love, Sandi

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  25. It makes me sad, then angry at the loss of life really. May those boys rest in peace.

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  26. I was lucky my Grandad came home.

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  27. Your grandfather was such a brave man and very handsome too. Happy Rememberance Day

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  28. I have missed so much of your entries, I am truely sorry for that. I am going to play some catching up tonight for sure. Your grandfather is the image of my BIL Ron. My daughter Emma said omg mom he looks just like Uncle Ron. I buy a poppy every time I see a veteran selling them.
    (((((hugs)))))
    Love ya,
    Cindy

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