This year, 2018, marks 100 years since the end of World War 1 (WW1). Often referred to as ‘the Great War’ and more poignantly as ‘the war to end all wars’.
Personally, I think there is nothing ‘great’ about war and history shows that there has not been a single day of world peace since 1914 so the second statement bears no resemblance to reality.
That said, I do think it is important to remember the impact that war has on societies and environments alongside honouring those who died or were injured protecting their country. If only so that future generations are able to ‘witness’ the personal stories as well as the historical events and gain a sense of the devastation that such events have. It is also important that we are able to recognise, that just as our relatives lost their fathers and children – so did those families on the other side of this conflict.
We are shown, via Television and social media, conflicts on other continents although it is only by hearing the stories of our individual family members that I think we truly can gain an understanding of the personal impact. Why was great-grandmother on her own with 3 children, why did great uncle Joe jump when ever a car backfired, why did cousin Mark have his leg amputated and lose the fingers on his left hand?
I doubt there are many alive who lived through the first World War – and those who are alive were mostly babes in arms – so information is now passed on through letters, photos and family reminisces. It is quite amazing the ‘keepsakes’ and ‘mementos’ that have been unearthed as towns and cities prepare exhibitions and tributes.
Earlier this week I assisted the local Girl Guides install an insulation of poppies and silhouette soldiers in the centre of the village (to add to other organisations tributes) in readiness for November 11th. It felt good that this was a multi-generational activity and that the Girl Guides were the main design artists – us oldies mostly just passed over the hundreds of poppies to willing hands.
And, I learnt something new – some of the knitted poppies were purple. This is to recognise the war effort of the Horses and other animals who also contributed and suffered during those years.
The next day I travelled to Bedale in the Yorkshire Dales to see an exhibition of the Red Cross Hospitals that were active in North Yorkshire during WW1. These hospital units opened up in response to the number of wounded soldiers returning to England for medical/nursing care.
The buildings were mostly large Halls – which had up until then been the homes of the local gentry. I recall episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ when it too became a refuge for the wounded. The medical and nursing staff were a mixture of army personnel and local Red Cross Volunteers and were represented at the opening of the exhibition by today’s Army Nurses and members of the Red Cross.
From a personal historic perspective, it was worrying to see a ‘Nelson’s Inhaler’ as an antique – I recall using them when I was nursing (and it is not that long ago!)
Again, it was humbling to, not only see the historical artefacts, but to speak to people who had stored such items in their homes over the generations – to remember the loss, the bravery and the strength of the human spirit.