The 4th August 1914.
The start of the First World War. The Great War. The War to end all Wars.
Two men: one living in London, one living in a suburban town of Paris. One became a tommy, one un poilu.
They were my grandfathers, Alfred K (granddad) and Louis Leon D (grand-père). Two men born into the Victorian age who were drawn into the bloodiest war the world had ever seen.
“The lamps are going out all over Europe…” Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914
I was only five when granddad died and growing up, Dad told stories about the family which interested me and I wanted to know more but Dad’s knowledge was limited. I began to read the poetry of that time and those poems were and remain to me now, some of the most powerful collection of words I have ever read. So much so that many of the poems I wrote from the age of 13 onwards were about that subject. I did not want to list times and places, I wanted to talk about the emotions and feelings, that was more important to me.
“The sunken road… (was) … filled with pieces of uniform, weapons and dead bodies.”Lieutenant Ernst Junger, German soldier, The Somme, 1916
Granddad did not see action until October 1915 when he left for France and in July 1916 along with his brothers, experienced the hell that was the Battle of the Somme. And later that month he lost one of his older brothers.
“What a bloodbath, what horrid images, what a slaughter. I just cannot find the words to express my feelings. Hell cannot be this dreadful.” Albert Joubaire, French soldier, Verdun, 1916.
I never knew grand-père as he died many years before I was born and even though Mum remembers things, not enough to fill in all the blanks. He fought at Verdun in 1916/17 and was wounded which resulted in the loss of his left eye.
I think that it is important to remember this anniversary. It is important to me to remember my grandfathers and to try to imagine what they experienced and how that shaped their futures once they returned home to the their families and the women who waited for them and who would become their wives.
Did they ever think for one moment that it would happen all over again in such a short time and did they shake their heads in disbelief when it did? I think they must have done.
So, I will remember them and be lucky and privileged that I knew one of them, if only for a few short years. And for the multitude who never made it home, I hope there is a family somewhere that remembers them still.