I wrote this somewhere else, and it got sufficiently long that I thought it might as well go here, since the blog is still here. Prompted by Nov 11th, of course, but by other things too.
Nov 11th 2020
My Anglo-German children have two WW1 veterans among their great-grandfathers. One London law clerk who was a Lewis gunner at Passchendaele, fortunately invalided out part way through the battle with trench fever. And a Bavarian farmer who fought the Russians in the German army and came back with bullet fragments in his head. But they both survived.
The kids also have a Northern Irish great-grandfather who was a WW2 veteran, a regular army ‘Desert Rat” at Tobruk and later a Chindit in Burma – a taciturn man who never spoke about the war. And they have a British grandfather, my now-deceased dad, who as a nine year-old kid sat in an Anderson shelter in SE London during the bombing of London in 1940, or watched the fires of the City of London and the East End burning across the river.
The kids also have a German grandfather, still alive in his early 80s, who took over the Bavarian farm. He wasn’t supposed to – it was expected to be his (much) older brother. But in late 1944, when the kids’ future grandfather was 6 and his brother was 17, the Volkssturm militia turned up in the village, forcibly enlisted all the older teenage boys and marched them off. And that was the last the family ever saw of the older boy. To this day the family have never been able to find out what happened to him, or where or how he died. That includes my father-in-law, who spent years trying to track down what had happened to his older brother. No detailed record, no exact location, no grave. “Lost on a Winter forced march”.
So – we remember the people on Nov 11th, and we should. But the bigger thing we should remember is that wars bring terrible loss, and lifelong scars for survivors, and for those who lose people. War is hell.
And that, to me, is the real lesson. Never forget.