Friday, 19 September 2014

A Remembrance Too Far?

100 years ago the world went to war, or at least Europe and it's empires did. And that was the start of the end to empires. Naturally, there are lots of things to mark and commemorate and there will be up until 1918 when the 'war to end all wars' ended.

The Royal British Legion and Commonwealth War Graves Commission have launched a campaign to remember everyone who died in service between 1914-18. It's called Every Man Remembered (and includes Every Woman Remembered) and the website is here. It's a nice idea and has been picked up elsewhere. In my workplace there's a plaque on the wall near the front door listing the names of former staff who died in the wars and the management has invited volunteers to research their lives so we don't forget about them. Not forgetting is sometimes important.

The thing I'm not sure about is that this emphasis on remembrance is for those who died in the First World War. What about those who survived, made it through the war and had to live with their physical and mental disabilities and the memories? It's well documented that soldiers in the war didn't speak of the horrors they saw and I know that from personal experience. My Granda made it through the war, lost his left arm and never spoke of it. He was 18 years old when he lost his arm and lived until he was 92. That's a long time to carry the burden of memory.

My Granda was born in the last years of the 19th Century, a late Victorian, and here we are in the 21st Century. How time flies. It's odd to think that I knew Victorians in the shape of my grandparents. I remember sleeping in their back bedroom in their cottage at Emma Ville a former pit village, with photographic portraits of my Granda's two brothers hanging on the wall. Proud young men in uniform with their future's ahead of them. Futures cut short. If they were anything like my Granda then they were probably very popular and liked a pint or two on a Friday night. Or maybe three.

I remember seeing my Granda's medals with bright ribbons in a commemorative box. That's the thanks he got from the country for losing an arm and living a lifetime without it.  My Granda once told me about his granda - in a pub, of course - and how he was a navvy that dug the course of the River Tyne at Blaydon as it is today. But he never told me about the trenches or the bombardments or running into the hail of bullets that ruined his arm. He always covered his arm in photos so it wasn't seen, something to be hidden. He was less self-conscious about it in his later years, probably recognising that life is too short to be shy despite his going on and on and on until he got bored and left us.

I might browse through Every Man Remembered to see if my great uncles are there but I shall remember those who lived through the war and beyond. I'll remember those who went on to become award-winning gardeners and grandparents. I'll remember my Granda.

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