My youngest son sent me off on a historical quest this morning. He wanted to go into the attic for something or other so I thought that while we are up there I would have a look for a photo of my maternal Grandfather in his army uniform to update the piece I wrote about him and his fighting in Gallipoli during the First World War; since this weekend marks the hundred year anniversary of the end of that conflict. I did not find a picture (the one above is of my Paternal Grandfather, who served too.. but not in action as he would have only been 18 when the war ended… you had to be 19 for that), but I did find my late Father’s extensive research on our family tree which brought up a few interesting things that had not really registered with me.
I spoke in my earlier piece about how my maternal Grandfather never really talked about his experiences during the war, and how that has meant that my knowledge of this period for our family is somewhat sketchy. However, it appears that my Father had done some research with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and found that my Grandfather’s Brother, my Great Uncle…
Lance Corporal Richard Potts of the 11th Battalion Border Regiment
…was killed in action on 01/12/1916 at the age of 23.
From the evidence I found in that folder he also discovered that his own Mother’s cousin…
Lance Corporal Frank Stamford of the 2nd/ 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment
…was killed in action on 19/07/1917 at the age of 22.
This weekend I will remember them, one young man from either side of my family, who died in this bloody conflict as representatives of all those who did not come back… but also those who, like my Grandfather, did come back and were permanently scarred… both mentally and physically… for the rest of their lives.
However, I also have a German wife and we have talked quite a bit about her ancestors and her very different experiences of remembering her relatives at this time too; conscious that my children also have two sides to their family… but unlike my family they come from much different places in this context. This is something I find difficult to imagine but it is also a mark of where we are after seventy three years after the end of World War II that we in Western Europe live in relative harmony with each other. Before writing this it had not struck me that we are much farther away from WWII than the just over thirty years between the beginning of WWI and the end of WWII. This does not mean that we should forget, but for me it does mean that we should also be thankful to all those who have contributed to this… I consider being 54 and never having first hand experience of a war as being something of a privilege, and not something to be taken for granted.
So as my boys quite properly parade in their cub/ scout uniforms on Remembrance Sunday, and my youngest wears his special poppy badge playing football in the afternoon, I will also reflect on how they are very powerful symbols of peace. I will reflect on the fact that in the first fifth of the twenty first century there was nothing remotely unusual or strange about a British and German person getting together and having a family. I will remember Richard Potts and Frank Stamford and other members of my family who were so vividly affected by these conflicts. I will also remember those in my wife’s family who fought and also bore physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives… they are mine and my children’s relatives too.
Finally, though, I will hope that this Remembrance Day will encourage us to look to the future to ensure that the twenty first century is not scarred in the way that the first half of the twentieth was. This for me is every bit as important in remembering those who have died in past conflicts, because I feel that if we do not learn the lessons of their pain and suffering we are somehow not fully honouring it.