This week marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign, which took place during World War 1 in an area that today is part of Turkey (the Wikipedia entry on this can be found here).
So why am I writing about it?
Well my Grandfather was at Gallipoli. He was an ordinary soldier, a boy really who had lied about his age to get into the army to fight for what he thought was right. I am sure that when he was faced with the stark realities of war he must have been scared out of his wits, but was also fortunate to come back and was not one of the estimated 131,000 casualties of that campaign.
Although we visited my Grandparents regularly I did not know my Grandfather that well l, so I do not know the extent to which he bared the mental scars of that experience. Although the fact that he always seemed quite distant might suggest that he did. He did, though, bare the physical scars having shrapnel lodged in his face until the day he died (at 95 years old): a constant reminder of that time.
Much has and will be written about the experiences that men like my Grandfather had during the many wars that have taken place in the hundred years since Gallipoli (and I do not limit that to one side of any battle), but I wanted to reflect more personally.
I have thought more about my Grandfather over the last six months than I probably have in the years since he died. This is partly because I did not really grieve for him at the time since he died just five days after my Mother did, and I am quite sure that those two things are related; and given the distance we had I have never really given him that much thought in the intervening years.
But my Grandfather was a walker. A Cumbrian who lived in that county all his life, he would go out walking just after breakfast, return for lunch only to have a short nap and then go out again in the afternoon. Thinking about it now he must have walked miles every day, even after a series of strokes limited his movement and his eyesight failed him. He was well known for lifting this white stick in the air and launching himself into the road, against the horrors of Gallipoli I’m sure that bore little fear for him. I am also sure that he must have reflected on those experiences on his long walks through the beautiful Cumbrian countryside.
I have never thought that my Grandfather was remarkable, or that he had had a remarkable life, but when I think about the times he lived through and the experiences he had I can’t help but see him in a fresh light. I now find him to be quite inspirational, which is quite something (and also quite poignant for me) so long after he died, and I wish he were still around so I could tell him that, ask about his life experiences, and share his love of the outdoors.
As I can’t do that the best thing for me to do is to remember him and his life one hundred years after the brutal battles he found himself in, and reflect how my relationship with him now is somehow strengthened by our shared interest in walking. I can understand more of what he might have been thinking when he was out and about, and how he could try to reconcile his life with the beauty of his surroundings.
I never thought that I would be writing about him, let alone thinking about him; but the fact that I am seems to enable me to make that connection even more strongly and helps me understand both him and myself just a little more.